FESTIVALS : The unique tradition of Lathmaar Holi

Lathmar Holi - legend has it that Krishna had come to Radha’s native place, Barsana, to play Holi with her, but irritated by him and his cowherd friends, Radha and her ‘sakhis’ chased them away with sticks.

Groups of men willingly going to some place to be beaten up by groups of women – this happens only in India. legend has it that Krishna had come to Radha’s native place, Barsana, to play Holi with her, but irritated by him and his cowherd friends, Radha and her ‘sakhis’ chased them away with sticks. Thousands of years later, the tradition continues as menfolk from Krishna’s village, Nandgaon, come to Barsana to play Holi with the women here. They, in turn, are setto chase them away with sticks, rather than play with colors.

The festivities usually start with an offering of Tesu flowers to Radha Rani. This is followed by a singing contest between Nandgaon and Barsana, where the songs are full of challenges and innuendo. After this the crowds move to RangeeliGali and Lathmaar Chowk. The men from Nandgaon start singing bawdy Holi songs to tease the women and get their attention. The women show their displeasure by beating them off with sticks.

 Not that the men were expecting anything else. They come from their village fully padded, and even holding shields to defend themselves. The ladies of Barsana of course show no mercy and if a man tries to resist, he’s dragged away, and gets beaten up further. In case he still resists, they punish him by dressing him up in women’s garments, and forcing him to dance. This is supposed to be in memory of Lord Krishna having been given the same punishment at Radha’s hands.

There are as many people lining the streets to watch the festivities as there are playing. Spectators add to the atmosphere singing Holi songs in BrajBhasha, drinking and distributing Bhaang, and shouting the names of Radha and Krishna. Intoxicated by the colors and Bhaang, the lads from Nandgaon keep making provocative comments and the women from Barsana keep up the rhythmic beating. All this is of course done in keeping with the spirit of Holi and there is no malice whatsoever.

The next day the cowherds from Barsana go to Nandgaon, where they, in turn, will be beaten up by the ladies there. The unique part about this festival is that people willingly go to get beaten up. They aren’t offended by it; rather they take pride in continuing an age-old tradition. Violent as the name and even the tradition is, the festival is actually one that portrays love, equality and humility.

Read more about Brij ki Holi