Where Holi goes on for 50 days

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It may be a one-day affair in the rest of India, but Holi is a 50-day cultural exposition in the Braj region of Uttar Pradesh.

In the five districts of the Agra division that make up Braj, it is a no-holds-barred celebration inspired by the legend of Krishna-Radha and replete with examples of Mughal emperors like Akbar and Jahangir who enthusiastically participated in the festival.

"Normally, it is a 50-day affair starting with Basant Panchami," said Acharya Jaimini of Vrindavan.

The festivities begin with Holi celebrations at the Dwarkadheesh temple in Mathura. Braj, the birthplace of Lord Krishna, is located within a 100-km radius of the Hindu pilgrim town.

"We mostly use natural colours made by mixing tesu flowers with lukewarm water, so that the little Krishna doesn't catch cold," a temple official said.

Jagannath Poddar, director of the NGO Friends of Vrindavan, said: "This festival is more socio-cultural than religious as all communities join the festivities, sing, dance and throw colours."

Referring to 'Lat Maar' holi of Barsana town where woman revellers beat up men with sticks, he said, "Occasionally, people let out steam through violence!"

In the narrow lanes of Barsana town, thousands of pilgrims, showering colours and rose petals, line up along the 252 steps to the Radha temple on the hill to witness its Lat Maar Holi.

Families in Barsana that send out 'huriyarins', or women participants in Lat Maar Holi, usually start preparations a month in advance.

"The mothers-in-law feed their daughters-in-law rich food to be able to participate and show their prowess on the battlefield on Holi! It is a show of love, fun and equality, one that make even the gods to descend and witness the game," say the locals.

Traditionally, it is believed that Lord Krishna along with his friends, the 'gops' (men) from Nandgaon town in Mathura district, went to his beloved Radha's village in Barsana and played Holi.

Barsana resident pandit Ram Sharan explained that the gops from Nandgaon had visited Barsana to invite Radha and gopis to play Holi. Laddoos were offered to welcome the gops and a session of Holi bhajans and dances followed in the evening. The temple priests threw laddoos on the devotees marking the Laddoo ki holi.

This year, due to an extended winter and the heat generated by elections to the Uttar Pradesh assembly, people took a little longer to get into the mood for celebrations. A steady rise in the temperature has also helped outdoor activities attract people in the past few days.

By Holi, people expect the air to be warmer, which should make up for the delayed excitement and all the frolic associated with this festival of colours which is special to Braj.

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