Holi, or the ‘festival of colours’, is the Hindu spring festival celebrated in India. The day not just signifies the victory of good over evil, but also the arrival of spring, end of winter, and festive day to meet others, play and laugh, forget and forgive. As many know, Holi is preceded by a number of unique celebrations across India. The day before Holi is when the Holika Dahan is celebrated. And a few days before that, Indians, especially in the north, celebrate Laddu Mar Holi and Lath Mar Holi. Laddu Mar Holi is celebrated a day before Lath Mar Holi in Barsana town in Mathura, Uttar Pradesh. Laddu Mar Holi is celebrated by devotees gathering in temples. They dance, sing and throw laddu’s at each other, which is then also consumed as Prasad.
The next day is celebrated as Lath Mar Holi. This year, Lath Mar Holi will be celebrated on February 24. It typically takes place days before the actual Holi in the neighbouring towns of Barsana and Nandgaon near Mathura. Thousands of Hindus and tourists gather to celebrate this day. A popular legend suggests that Lord Krishna visited his beloved Radha’s village on this day and playfully teased her and her friends. The women of Barsana took offence at this and chased him away. In a hat tip to this story, the men from Nandgaon visit the town of Barsana every year and are greeted by sticks (aka lathis) of the women there. The ladies hurl sticks at the men, who try to shield themselves as much as they can. The ones captured by the enthusiastic women are then made to wear female clothing and dance in public.
Here’s how Lath Mar Holi is celebrated in Barsana:
Thousands gather to witness the Lath Mar Holi when women beat up men with sticks (laṭh or lāṭhī) at the Radha Rani temple in Barsana, which is said to be the only temple in the country that is dedicated to Radha. Spectators also sing Holi Songs and shout Sri Radhey or Sri Krishna. While the women beat the men with lathis on the first day, the second day is celebrated differently. On the second day, the men invade Nandgaon and drench the womenfolk of Nandgaon in colours of ‘kesudo’, and ‘palash’. In between the celebrations, participants sip ‘thandai’, a cold drink that is sometimes intoxicating because it is laced with a paste called bhang, made of cannabis. Reportedly, womenfolk begin preparation for Lath Mar Holi almost a month in advance. Lath Mar Holi is a day of fun, love and equality.