Holi in Vrindavan – more chaos and colour, more India is not possible! Nowhere else is the Festival of Colors celebrated so enthusiastically as in Vrindavan, the holy city of Krishna. Last year, together with two friends, I was in the middle of the color craze.
Vrindavan – Krishna’s Holy City
Already in 2017, during my first trip to India, I wanted to spend Holi in Vrindavan. But I returned to Germany only a few days before the big festival. Last year, in March 2020, it was finally meant to be: Together with two friends – an Indian girl and a guy from the UK – I arrived in Vrindavan, a few days before Holi.
Vrindavan is the place where the Hindu God Krishna spent his childhood. Here, he played with cows, annoyed his mother if he didn’t come home in time, and seduced pretty girls with his flute playing. If one greets oneself in the rest of India with “Ram Ram” (Ram is one of the central deities of Hinduism), in Vrindavan they say: “Radhe Radhe”. Radha is the companion and lover of Krishna. In Vrindavan, a common saying goes: “Nothing is stronger than Krishna – except Krishna’s love for Radha”.
In the calm, windless afternoons, when the streets of Vrindavan are empty and flickering in the heat, one sometimes seems to hear Krishna’s flute playing.
Holi in Vrindavan – Frenzy of Colours
On the day before Holi, fires are lit all over India. Small fires burn on every street corner, excited children play around it it, old men and women look silently into the flames. But the biggest fire is in the middle of the street. No barriers, no police or fire brigade – only the flames that burn brightly in the warm night. We are looking forward to tomorrow.
The next day, the time has come: Holi! Early in the morning we are woken up by horns and drums. These can be heard in India on any day and at any time of the day, but today, on Holi, they are particularly loud. We follow the noise and get into the old town. On the banks of the Yamuna, the second most sacred river in India, old houses are lined up next to even older temples. But the otherwise sandstone colored walls are green and yellow, red and blue. The whole city, indeed the whole of India, throws around color powder. People wish each other “Happy Holi”, and smear paint on strangers’ faces, children fight color battles, pink cows get caught in the crossfire, grandmothers watch in amusement and grandfathers get in the middle of the action.
We quickly understand: we need ammunition. We equip ourselves with yellow, orange and pink and make our way to the Sri Radha Raman Temple, one of the holiest in the city. Inside, hundreds of devotees chant the ancient mantras of Hinduism: “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare”. The singing mixes with the colorful air and the sultry heat, creating a rush of sensations.
Later, we are walking along the Ghats. In India, Ghats are the steps leading down to a river. By now I have lost my shoes, my once white t-shirt is everything but white. But we are having tremendous fun. The whole city is in a party mood, and long ago it has spilled over onto us. You get into conversation with all kinds of people, you laugh and make very short-lived friendships. With all the laughter, all the good humor, you understand the meaning of the Holi Festival: the victory of good over evil.
The Secret Ingredient: Bhang Lassi
Holi without Bhang, that would be like Christmas parties without alcohol – a bit boring. Bhang is a cannabis preparation that is legal in many areas of India and available almost everywhere. Especially in the holy cities like Varanasi and Pushkar, Bhang is omnipresent. Bhang Lassi is drunk at Holi throughout the country. Old and young, sadhus and students enjoy the cannabis drink, which – according to legend – the god Shiva also likes to consume.
Of course we want to adapt to the traditions and order a Bhang Lassi as well. It costs twenty rupees, is served in a disposable clay jar, and tastes sweet and sour. Then, we wait. We sit on the banks of the Yamuna, more infatuated by the noise and the sun than by the Bhang. We almost make the classic beginner’s mistake and order a second “Special Lassi”. But then the first effects take hold: The water of the holy river seems to melt like wax, the drums beating somewhere in the distance become more and more intense, the colors stronger. Suddenly everything is incredibly funny: the monkeys stealing a can of coke from the rich tourists from Delhi, the cows watching the colorful chaos calmly and with big eyes.
We take a Tuk-Tuk back to the hotel. The driver who steers us through the Holi-crazy Vrindavan seems to be a bit intoxicated himself. He races recklessly through the traffic, curses and honks, steers with one hand and smokes with the other. We almost hit a cow, only narrowly avoid an old sadhu. The tuk-tuk odyssey feels like a roller coaster ride in Virtual Reality: we have no control over the vehicle, dangers and strange sights rush by to the left and right – and still we laugh. But finally we arrive at the hotel, where we try in vain to wash the paint off our faces and clothes.
Holi Festival in Vrindavan – an Ecstasy of Colours
Later, when the effect of the Bhang has already diminished, we plunge back into chaos. But because the midday heat is so oppressive, the streets are not as crowded as before. Red and yellow cows stand in the pink street, green faces smile at us, colorful babas sit at the roadside and smoke cigarettes. It is a post-apocalyptic party scene.
But even the most beautiful celebrations come to an end at some point. Before the day is over, we visit the Prem Mandir – the “Temple of Love”. And where would a temple with such a name fit better than Vrindavan, where the love of Krishna is still tangible today – especially on Holi!
It is evening. We are exhausted but happy. The next days we will have to recover from this rush of colours. But the memories of this day, of Holi in Vrindavan, will stay with us for a long time – longer even than all the color that still covers us from head to toe.