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Travel Photography by Burt Johnson and Evelyn Johnson

India 3 – Holi Festival Part 1 – Barsana

Barsana, India - faces

Holi is an ancient religious festival, also known as the festival of colors. It celebrates the start of spring, the end of winter, good over evil, thanks for a good harvest, and in 2018, starts the evening of March 1st, ending March 2nd, 2018 (though celebrations start a week earlier). This festival is celebrated throughout India and Nepal, and wherever there is a large population of Indians and Hindus.

The result is a great party, starting with bright colored powders on the first day, then the addition of water guns, water canons, water balloons, and buckets to the mix of colored powders, resulting in quite a slippery surface for merry making. Combined with cannabis, and other imbibing, the party goers appear like zealots, and no person - young nor old - is exempted from playing "holi" with them.

This has been on our bucket list of "must do" photo events for years. Even after hearing what to expect, we were totally unprepared for the intensity and fervor of this celebration though.

Barsana, India - colored faces

The Barsana Holi in Uttar Pradesh is one of the more colorful villages to experience Holi, as it is the birthplace of Radha Rani, the beloved of Krishna. Radha Rani Shriji Temple is the first temple of the goddess of love.

On the dry run of the holi photo shoot, we walked through the quiet town and took portraits of the people before the craziness (top block). Once we arrived at the temple, we were given instructions to walk into the temple, and told to sneak under the ropes before we got spit out the exit with the horde. If we found ourselves outside, we would have to walk around the temple to get back in the cue to try again.

On our first attempt to enter the temple, we were quickly evicted by the guards who told us no photographs were allowed. hmmm... Changed our clothing slightly, to be less identifiable, shifted the cameras low on the opposite side of the guards, and then walked back in with a crowd.  Got in that time, where we quickly learned one of the lessons of this grand party -- police and military try to enforce order, but very quickly give up under the pressure of the crowd, and whatever rules existed 10 minutes ago are quickly forgotten...

The crowds were tossing some powder and dancing with the sound of any drummer, so we had a chance to see part of the activities before the serious paint throwing, and practice with our protective gear.

Barsana, India - crowds

The following afternoon (the start of the event), we were informed by Oliver Klink, our tour leader, to follow the crowd up the stairs into the temple, and to expect that it would be crowded. Go with the flow, and try not to be pushed out the exit.

Barsana, India - colored crowds

Even though we had been told in graphic detail, what we experienced was beyond anything a Westerner could have conceived. The crowd was so thick, we were literally carried up the stairs, not being able to breathe as there was no gap between you and the next person. Pushing and shoving was the watchword of the day, with the people behind trying to move forward, regardless of any available space to go.

When you were caught in the wave, you had to stay with the momentum. There was no getting out. You simply moved when the crowd moved, and hoped not to get crushed. Every member of our group managed to sneak under the ropes into a side chamber, where we were able to capture a few photos. However there were also thousands of mobile phones and cameras to compete with (the guards had given up on that score). Red and yellow were the dominant powder color for this temple.

Barsana, India - celebrating

Between the morning and afternoon, the temple closed so it could be cleaned.  That moved the celebration to the base of the steps. More drummers, dancers, singers...there was never a quiet moment, though a few worn out souls did try to catch a nap on the marble floor (bottom right two images).

Barsana, India - travelers

Our group survived the first dry run of Holi. To sneak past the guards, I had rid myself of our group orange bandana, so the guards wouldn't recognize our gang colors.  As a result, my hair caught the brunt of the color attack, and was still tinged a strong red three weeks later (the green middle-right would be covered over in red soon)!

The story continues tomorrow...

Here is a short 100 second video to give a sense of the music, dancing, and paint powder of today's activities.  The group at the beginning is chanting "Radhe, Radhe," which is the name of the goddess this temple is devoted to.

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