The Wet, Herbal Color of The Tesu Flower
I hope all of you enjoyed the images of Holi in Barsana. And now, we must move on to Nandgaon, which is where I went the next day. Legends say that Krishna spent a few years of his childhood/adolescence in Nandgaon. The legends also say Krishna left Braj Bhoomi towards the end of his teens and never returned. At any rate, we were in Nandgaon the next day, where people play with wet, herbal colors. In contrast, as I mentioned in my last post, people use mainly dry color in Barsana.
The Tesu Flower
They play with dry colors as well, but the one most used is the red color, extracted from the tesu flower. I have been told the plant also possesses medicinal properties, and people use the petals to make sherbets. In our Indian tradition, we use wet, herbal colors, extracted from plants.
However, times are changing. Our population has exploded, and people’s temperaments are changing as well. I was told Holi was a gentle festival, but in parts of urban India, tinges of violence and thuggish elements have entered the festivities. Sadly, goons take advantage of the occasion to molest women. Nowadays, the colors we get are often synthetic and stain your skin for several days. Plus, you have the possibility of getting a skin rash.
Before I move on, I must point out one crucial aspect of Holi. The date of the festival marks the end of spring and the start of summer. We base all our festivals on the lunar calendar, and they mark the change of seasons.
Back in Barsana
But let’s move on, else I will carry on lecturing everyone. The day after the men of Nandgaon visit Barsana, the Barsana men return the compliment. The two villages are about twenty kilometers apart, so it’s not an arduous trek either way.
The celebrations in Nandgaon center on the temple on the hill, unlike Barsana, where it spills onto the streets with extreme vigor. In both villages, a temple sits on the hilltop, but I didn’t enter Barsana’s temple.
Here, in Barsana, the dry colors soon give way to the wet, herbal color of the tesu flower. The red dye of the flower blends with the dry color and there is almost no hope of remaining dry. If you harbor such hopes, then everyone will know you are in the grip of some strange insanity!
I was using my Nikon D200 on this trip and had covered it with a plastic camera cover. In all honesty, I dislike using this cover, because it makes the experience awkward, and it is difficult to make a perfect image. If I had known how difficult this was going to be, I would have used a prime lens and continued to move back and forth amongst the crowd. If you don’t mind getting wet–and you will–the task is easier in Nandgaon than in Barsana. In Barsana, you get buffeted around anyway and must possess the build of a bull.
Towards the late afternoon, the men from Barsana enter the temple courtyard, to a shower of red tesu water. The men of the opposing villages sit opposite each other and then, as the red rain showers down on them, they sing to each other. Each side trumpets its superiority, and they sing with vigor. As a red haze fills the air, their songs soar to the heavens, playing out the ancient myth. The wet, herbal color drips rivers of red, and the men sing out in perfect harmony.
Then, in fifteen minutes, it is all over, and the brave hearts from Barsana walk the streets to receive their share of the pasting from the women of the village.
Your Clothes Die in the wet, herbal color!
At long last, the day is done, and everyone–locals and visitors–settle down for chai and pakora before heading back home.
When you arrive back at your hotel, you strip and get into the shower. While the colored water pours down your naked body, you realize your clothes are dead. But you know you will wear them again in Vrindavan the next day. At the end of the trip, your jeans and shoes make squelching sounds, akin to a death rattle. They have lived their life, and you return home and prepare another set of clothes in case you intend to return the following year.
A Commercial Break
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