Sunday, April 02, 2006

Happy Holi from Mathura

HOLI is one of the biggest Hindu festivals of the year and is celebrated all over India. Our original plan was to dash from the cricket to Varanasi in order to celebrate in perhaps the holiest city, BUT on a random whim from a piece of advice and short of time we went to Mathura instead – as it turned out, one of the best decisions that will be made on this trip!

Mathura is also one of the most sacred cities, especially to followers of Vishnu, as Krishna (Vishnu’s 7th incarnation and of Hari or "Lord" Krishna fame) was born here, but comparably off the tourist map. Since Holi is a festival about Krishna, you can imagine this would be the place to be. After our first day wandering around the city and learning about Hinduism in a major temple, on the main day of Holi we jumped in a rickshaw and ended up in Vrindavan, the most sacred site around Mathura.
The core part of the festival, “to play Holi”, involves everyone brave enough to be on the street plastering everyone who is stupid enough to be on the street with colour. This is usually in the form of powder paint of every colour imaginable but predominantly pink for medium term skin discolouration. Unfortunately that is not all you get plastered with. From oil paints to puddle water, silly-string to excrement – anything throws!

Despite the peculiarities of certain missiles I had an amazing time. Often it is just a case of a man coming up to you, blessing you with paint on your forehead or rubbing it on your face followed by three hugs and a ‘Happy Holi’. Other times it is more of a running battle. Packs of men occupy stretches of the road waiting to smother you. Nothing, or nowhere is off limits for the throwing. As the only westerners noticeably present we were prime targets. This generally made it even more fun as I enjoy a bit of a rumble, but at times it was understandably too much for Martina - as a blond female, this meant wondering hands were by no means off the agenda. It is very difficult because here the women are not involved in such celebrations, so if you choose to join as a western woman you should expect some inevitable actions from many a desperate man who sees foreigners as little more then sex-symbols. This is by no means an excuse for some of their disgraceful actions which did on at least one occasion lead her to tears. There was often one really low and pathetic guy who really needed to grow up. If there families knew they would be in disgrace.
The highlight for me was entering a temple at the heart of all the fun on my loansome, as one of us had to look after Martina, and entering one of the craziest environments of my short life. Thousands of people crammed into a temple dancing, singing, holi’ing. The atmosphere was so thick with powder paint that it was hard to breathe. I had no option but to join the crazy dancing and have a great time until I received a particularly vicious projectile of yellow paint into my eyes. I was temporarily blinded in the middle of a huge crowd and had to rely on kind strangers to take me to the nearest water supply in order to at least partially recover my sight before rejoining the fun.

All in all so much fun and an incredible experience. The photos give an idea of just how battered we got. Further, this stuff does not just wash off. All the clothes were forever altered along with Martina’s hair (now pinky-purple) and Thilo has rather effeminate painted toe-nails.To cap the whole experience off, a ride back to Mathura in a rickshaw full of no less then 20 brightly coloured individuals (squeezed on every seat and lap, hanging off the sides and on the roof – my seat was largely a rather pointy gear-stick) on a very bumpy road was something else.

Happy Holi to all!!!
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