Braj, the land that resonates with Radha and Krishna’s divine love, is enveloped in a blanket of colour during Holi. And if one wants to be a part of these mystic celebrations, Barsana and Nandgaon (said to be the villages of Radha and Krishna respectively) in this region of Uttar Pradesh are the places to be. Atop a hill in Barsana is the Radha-Rani temple dedicated to Radha, who the locals endearingly refer to as Ladleeji. The temple is packed with devotees from all over Braj, particularly the men from Barsana, most of whom are in sakhivesh (women’s clothes), eagerly awaiting the impersonating Krishnas from Nandgaon. Meanwhile, the men from Nandgaon, after taking a dip in the Peeli Pokhar (a small pond on the outskirts of Barsana) and tying their turbans, start running towards the temple, dhals (shields) in hand, chanting ‘Radha-Rani ki jai’. As they pass, the village’s women folk pour matkas filled with coloured water on them from the rooftops. Drenched, they reach the temple. The men from both villages then sit opposite each other in what is known as samaj and sing verses in Braj bhasha, which cues lighthearted banter. Soon this place turns into an absolute visual delight as sacks full of gulal are thrown on the men. The action then moves to the narrow alleys of Barsana, where the impersonating Radhas, veiled in their best saris, wait with their lathis to beat up the notorious Krishna and his friends. The next day, the same sequence of events is replicated by the men of Barsana, who visit Nandagram temple in Nandgaon, sit in a samaj and are beaten up by the women of Nandgaon.
(Written by Taiyaba Khatoon)