Lath mar Holi is a local celebration of the Hindu festival of Holi.
It takes place well before the actual Holi in the town of Barsana near Mathura in the state of Uttar Pradesh. The name means “that Holi in which [people] hit with sticks” (laṭh is a thick traditional staff).
Legend has it that Lord Krishna visited his beloved Radha’s village on this day and playfully teased her and her friends. Taking offence at this, the women of Barsana chased him away. Since then, men from Krishna’s village, Nandgaon, visit Barsana to play Holi in the town which has the distinction of having the only temple dedicated to Radha in India.
In the sprawling compound of the Radha Rani temple in Barsana, thousands gather to witness the Lath Mar holi when women beat up men with sticks (laṭh or lāṭhī) as those on the sidelines become hysterical, sing Holi Songs and shout Sri Radhey or Sri Krishna. The Holi songs of Braj mandal are sung in pure Braj Bhasha.
On the first day of Lath Mar Holi gops (shepherds) from Nandgaon come to Barsana to play Holi with the gopis of Barsana. The festival begins with a ceremony at the Radha Rani temple. After this ceremony gops then march out of the temple on the Rang Rangeeli Galiwhere they stop to play holi with the gopis, who stand in groups along the street. The second day gops from Barsana go to Nandgaon to play holi with gopis at Nandgaon.
Holi played at Barsana is unique in the sense that here women chase men away with sticks. Males also sing provocative songs in a bid to invite the attention of women. Women then go on the offensive and use long staves called “lathis” to beat men folk who protect themselves with shields.
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