Holi 2016 - Celebrations in Mathura, Vrindavan, Barsana and Nandgaon!

Holi, a Hindu festival has been celebrated in India since thousands of years and  it’s alos known as the Festival of Colours. Now it is also celebrated by various communities of South Asia including non-Hindu communities. Holi will be celebrated on Purnima according to Bikram Sambat Hindu Calendar in month of Falgun, which falls somewhere between the end of February and the middle of March in the Gregorian calendar. It is two day festival and celebrating with Holika Dahan(Chhoti Holi) preceding the festival on the first day night.

To make your trip planning easy, we have given below chronological order of festivities as year 2016. You can choose to attend a few or simply plonk yourself in the town and experience the most colorful week of your life. The festival date, which is determined by the Hindu calendar, varies from year to year on the Gregorian calendar.

Important Occasions Date(date may change every day)
Day
Lathmaar Holi at Barsana 17th March 2016 Thursday
Lathmaar Holi at Nandgaon 18th March 2016 Friday
Holi in Mathura 19th March 2016 Saturday
Holi at Banke Bihari Temple in Vrindavan 20th March 2016 Sunday
Holi celebration in Gokul 21th March 2016 Monday
Dwarkadish Temple in Mathura 22th March 2016 Tuesday
Holi celebration at Temples & streets of Vrindavan 23th March 2016 Wednesday
Actual Holi celebration 24th March 2016 Thursday

History of Holi

the-bonfire-a-symbol-of-burining-of-holika-the-demon-during-holi-in-indiaHoli at BarsanaThe word “Holi” originates from “Holika”, the evil sister of the demon king Hiranyakashipu. The festival itself is believed to have origins from the Prahladpuri Temple of Multan in the Punjab region. The original temple of Prahladpuri is said to have been built by Prahlada, Hiranyakashipu’s son. Prahlada devoted to Lord Vishnu, this infuriated Hiranyakashipu. He punished Prahlada, none of which affected the Prahlada. Finally, Holika, Prahlada’s evil aunt, tricked him into sitting on a pyre with her. Holika was wearing a cloak that made her immune to injury from fire, while Prahlada was not. Cloak flew from Holika and encased Prahlada who survived while Holika burned. Hiranyakashipu, unable to control his anger, smashed a pillar with his mace. There was Lord Vishnu appeared as Lord Narasimha with tumultuous sound and killed Hiranyakashipu. The next day, when the fire had cooled down, people applied ash to their foreheads. In future, coloured powder came to be used to celebrate Holi.

The best place to celebrate Holi is Mathura India. If you are planning to celebrate the Holi in Mathura and Vrindavan, and looking for resources on how to go? This post can be helpful to anyone planning a trip there. This post should work both for Indian as well as international tourists, however, you are still in doubt after the post, feel free to post a question in the comments below.

Holi is one of the biggest Indian festivals and is also one of the most fun ones. Of course there are prayers to the Gods, but the festivities then continue on the streets as colourful street festival. Though there is one main Holi day, the festivities actually starts in mid-January at the time of Makar Sankranti and continue beyond the Holi day itself. If you are coming all the way to India to celebrate and capture Holi, it’s highly recommended that you come early as well as stay back a little longer to capture some big events before and after the main Holi day.
 
Below are five biggest events which make up this festival, though there are a few more like ‘Phoolon wali Holi’, which are not included in the list..
 
 

Lathmar Holi at Barsana and Nandgaon

The first in this is a rather peculiar style of Holi celebrations where women chase men and beat them up with Lathis (sticks), and it’s called Lathmar Holi. There are two towns which celebrate this festival with zest and these are Barsana and Nandgaon.
Lathmar Holi Barsana Nandgaon 2016
In the Braj region of North India, women have the option to playfully hit men who save themselves with shields; for the day, men are culturally expected to accept whatever women dish out to them. This ritual is called Lath Mar Holi
This is how the story behind the festival goes. Lord Krishna visited Barsana to meet Radha for Holi and teased her and her friends a lot. The ladies got a little offended and decided to teach Krishna a lesson and chased him away by beating him with sticks. So now men from Krishna’s village Nandgaon visit Barsana on this day and get beaten up and chased by the women here.
 
Its a huge event and attracts thousands of participants as well as tourists who come to enjoy the fun filled beatings.
 
When to go?
The event takes place about seven days before the actual Holi. Confirm the dates before planning a trip, it’s a different date every year like most Hindu festivals.
 
Where?
Barsana and Nandgaon
 
How to go?
If you are in Delhi, you can simply hire a cab, go to the event and come back home in the evening. Brasana is about 115 kilometres from Delhi. Similarly, if you are in Mathura you can hire a cab and go there. The distance is between Mathura and Barsana is about 50 km. Reach as early as possible in the morning as the temple gets very crowded and it might get difficult to climb to the top balcony which is the only place from where photography is possible here. 1st day Barsana and 2nd day Nandgaon

Phoolon wali Holi, Vrindavan

3rd day On the Ekadashi before Holi, the Banke Bihari temple at Vridnavan celebtrates a unique Holi which is not celebrated with conventional dry or wet colors, but with flowers, and hence the name Phoolon wali holi (Flowers’ Holi). The event is not as popular as the other events, but is quickly getting it’s due.

Phoolon wali Holi

The gates of the temple open around 4pm and the Flower’s Holi starts right after that. However, unlike other Holi festivities this is a short affair of just about 15-20 minutes during which flowers are thrown at the devotees by the temple priests. If you are not on time, it’s very easy to miss it. In case you planning to capture it with your camera, reach early and be at the gate just when it opens.

When to go?
Ekadashi before Holi. This year it’s 19th March.
 
Where?
Banke Bihari temple, Vrindavan

Widow’s Holi, Vrindavan

21st March  Widows in India have always led a difficult life. They were often banished form their homes and were forced to live in ashrams in Varanasi and Vrindavan. They wore white clothes and never played with colours. A few years back the widows of Pagal Baba Widow Ashram, Vrindavan decided to break this convention and play with colors.

widow's holi pagal baba ashram vrindavan
Women playing Holi

Though it started only two years back, it’s already a must-do event during Holi celebrations. If you reach early and have time, do make a visit and meet them. I am not sure, but if possible, do play with them as well…always good to spread love on festivals :)

When to go?
The event takes place a few days before Holi.
 
Where?
Pagal Baba Widow Ashram, Vrindavan Dates:  21st March
 

Holi at Banke Bihari Temple, Vrindavan

23rd March  Banke Bihari is the hub of Holi festivities in Vridavan – believed to be the birthplace of Lord Krishna. The event here takes place just a day before the main Holi festival. The temple opens up its doors to all visitors to come and play Holi with the lord himself. The priest throw colors and holy water and the crowd chants in unison. Its an unbelievable experience to be a part of this event.
Holi Banke Bihari Temple Vrindavan 2016
Holi at Banke Bihari Temple, Vrindavan
 

Unlike Lathmar Holi, this event has mainly males participating. There are some women, but the crowd does get rowdy and I guess that’s the reason most local women avoid it. There is festival inside as well as outside the temple premises and its impossible to escape the colors :)

 
The doors of the temple open at 9am and shut by 1.30pm.
 
When to go?
A day before Holi; 9am to 1.30pm
 
Where?
Vridnavan
 
How to go?
Vridnavan is about 160km from Delh, so it is possible to travel in the morning and go back in the evening. However, my recommendation is to take a hotel room and Mathura and stay overnight. The main Holi festival in Mathura happens next day and is not an event to be missed. Dates: 23nd March

 Holi procession in Mathura

23rd March After the Holi festivities in Vrindavan get over around 2pm, head out to Mathura to participate in the colourful Holi porcession. The procession starts at Vishram Ghat and get over a little after the Holi Gate. Its best to catch it in the street connecting the two landmarks.
Mathura Holi celebrations procession 2016
Kids throwing colors from the vehicle
 
About ten vehicles decorated with flowers, and some even with kids dressed up as Radha-Krishna, participate in it. 3pm is a good time to go there and be a part of it. Everyone plays Holi with everyone else and its futile to resist. Get drenched a few times and get completely coloured and chances are that you will be left to enjoy (or take photographs) by yourself after that. Evening Holika Dahan: The evening after the street procession is the time for Holika dehan – or burning of the effigy of Holika. The biggest such effigy is burnt at the Holi Gate and there are many cultural programs as well. I would suggest you skip this one and go inside the lanes towards ghats. Each small cross-road will have a small intimate function where women come and pray. The prayers are quick and if you are not around you can easily miss it as well.
 
When to go?
A day before Holi; 2pm to 6pm
 
Where?
Mathura
 
How to go?
If you are in Vrindavan, you can take an auto-rickshaw from the town. It makes little sense to come from Delhi or any other town just to attend this event. Dates:  23rd March

Holi festivities in Mathura

24th March On the big Holi day, the biggest festival takes place at the historical Dwarkadheesh Temple in Mathura. However, I would recommend starting the day much earlier at 7am. Head out to Vishram ghat and catch the process of making Bhang by the priests. If possible, maybe take a glass yourself as well (not more).

Holi Dwarkadheesh Temple Mathura 2016
The priest getting ready to spray…
 
The gates of the temple open at 10am and there is already a big crowd outside the gates by then playing Holi and colouring anyone who dares cross the road. Most of it is fun, but things can very quickly get ugly. Mostly local men and kids participate, and women are again conspicuous by their absence. However, there are many traveler women who do participate.
 
The atmosphere inside the temple is really nice actually Unlike Banke Bihari in Vridnavan, the scale of Holi is smaller and the place is much friendlier. Priest play Dhols and you can even join the dancing there. Inside the temple, more women play Holi. Food tip: On the day of Holi it’s practically impossible to find any food after the festival get s over, and that’s the time when you are also most hungry. My suggestion would be to buy some food in advance and keep safely with you in the bag or back in the hotel room. In case you forget to buy food, there is one dhaba open opposite Holi gate which does serve some very oily food. There could be some street vendors who sell stale chole-kulche, and maybe a fruit-seller if you are lucky. Brijwasi sweets at Holi gate opens around 4pm and you can get something hygienic to eat there.
When?
Holi day; 10am to 1.30pm
 
Where?
Dwarkadheesh Temple, Mathura
 
How to go?
If you are in Mathura, just walk from you hotel. You can also come from Delhi in a cab and leave the same afternoon. Dates:  23rd March
 

 Huranga at Dauji Temple

25th March On the day after Holi, Dauji Temple, located about 30 km outside Mathura, comes alive with men getting not just beaten up but also stripped by the women :)
Dauji Temple Mathura Holi Huranga 2016
Huranga at Dauji Temple in full swing!
 
The tradition dates back to more than 500 years, when the Krishna temple was established. Women from the family which established the temple, strip the men and beat them up with their own clothes, in the temple courtyard. Its a huge family with about 3000 members now, and they all come to the village from across the world for the festival.
 
This was to me the most fun-filed Holi. People just let go of all their inhibitions and play with colors. After the ceremony gets over, there is more Holi played in the courtyard of the temple and everyone is welcome to join in.
 
When?
Day after Holi; 12.30pm to 4.00 pm. However, this is a popular event and if you want to take good pictures reach by 9am and block your seat on the roof to get a good view.
 
Where?
Daoji Temple, Baldeo, 30 km from Mathura
 
How to go?
If you are in Mathura, take a cab or an auto-rickshaw to the village. You can also come from Delhi in a cab and leave the same afternoon. Dates: 25th March

More Practical Information

What to eat? I think the entire North India has great food, especially when it comes to street food and sweets, and Mathura certainly does not disappoint. I loved eating the food there every single day, infant though I was there to capture Holi, food also became a highlight of the trip. So go crazy on things like pain poori, aalo tikki, kachori, jelabis, imartis, lal pedas, gulab jamuns, lassi and more! If you think your stomach won’t be able to handle the Indian food, you can have it all from Brijwasi which is right next to the Holi gate. Otherwise, the most popular chaat place is called ‘Shreeji Chat’. For meals, do try out the Girdhar Murari Dharmashala. The place serves excellent Gujarati food, though you need to make a payment and reserve your meal in advance. If you come late, there won’t be any food for you – so do keep tab on time. I must also add that bhaang (form of cannabis) is legal in the city and served in the form of thandai – cold flavoured milk. I strongly recommend trying it out – we had multiple glasses of bhang everyday and loved it :) Where to stay? Mathura does’t have many amazing places to stay, but decent ones do exist. When picking a hotel, make sure you pick one which is close to the city centre so that you can easily walk around all the time without the need for transportation. It’s lovely near the river and if you can find a place somewhere near Vishram Ghat, it would be quite nice every evening. One of the most recommended places to stay is Hotel Brijwasi Royal. You can read more about them here. This hotel is a little more expensive than most and it’s quite possible to find much cheaper options as well here.

Mathura beyond Holi and temples Of course Mathura is not just temple and Holi, and there is much more to the city. I wrote an article about it a while back and it’s worth checking it out if you plan to stay for a day or so after the Holi event as well. Since you would have already seen most of the temples already, do use your time to see the town beyond the temples – there is local wrestling, food, old wooden doors and more :)
 
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