“Radhe Radhe” – Mathura 2016

IMG_8563 copyMix happiness with lakhs of devotees. Add colors ,scented water, flowers, spiked drinks , faith and spirit of celebration – festival of Holi is what you get. “Radhe radhe” and “Holi hai” are cheered all around and it’s your official ticket to go bonkers in public. How can you not love it.

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The day begins, with the most enthusiastic fans of Holi.
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Colors and their samples, smart I say..!


Holi has mesmerized me as a child since the times I remember. I still wish it should be made a monthly or at least a quarterly festival to be celebrated many times throughout the year. Not many agree though, sadly.

I’ve always believed that streets are a great leveler and any occasion that brings the masses together on the streets and spreads joy needs to be experienced in person and full emotion.

Plus if you have a DSLR and post pictures on your “abc wanabe photography” page then Mathura ki holi definitely becomes a “must do” event in your calendar. I’ve been wanting to come here since I first heard stories  about it from my grandmother , and later when Raghu Rai and Steve McCurry popularized it with brilliant imagery.

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Mythological story behind Holi goes such that there was a devotee of lord Vishnu, a kid called Prahalad who wouldn’t listen to his father about not worshiping lord Vishnu. so father decides to trick his son into being burned in fire by asking him to sit in Holika’s lap, Prahalad’s aunt. Apparently Holika was suppose to stay untouched and the kid should have burned,but the opposite happened and presto, thanks to the kid and lord Vishnu we got our festival of Holi.

Folklore also states that lord Krishna, who had a dusky skin color despised the fact that Radha, her friend was  so fair. So he pestered his mother enough that she playfully allows lord Krishna to color Radha in any color he wishes and hence begins the celebration of colors practiced till date. After that, lord Krishna and Radha become a couple and Holi becomes festival of love.

Holi of Brij (Nandgao + Brij + Mathura + Vrindavan)  is important because of the unique traditions that they have kept alive over centuries. As the above story goes further when Lord Krishna ( from Nandgaon) comes to meet Radha (at Barsana) they get a little over the top with the teasing and coloring and hence the gopis ( Radha and her female friends) take offense. As a result Lord Krishna and his friends are chased away by hitting them with Lathis ( thick wooden stick) by the Gopis. This practice can be seen today as well and that’s what attracts visitors from around the globe.

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Gops, or Nand kishore arrive from Nandgaon for Lath maar holi.

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In modern day context I also see this event as an exercise in gender equality. There are numerous festivals and rituals in Hindu religion that directly or in directly subordinate the social status of the fairer gender. But here, women are allowed to feel empowered and have full right to be the center of attraction, beat the crap out of men, and be praised for it.

Besides gender equality, social equality across cast and communities also signify Holi. On this day all faces are smeared with colors and the divide between the high and low, boss and the employee, master and servant vanishes.

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The lathi chargers arrive.
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and here we go…
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some kids want to grow up too fast..!

Another fact that I loved was that these people celebrate Holi for 16 days, and don’t waste even on hundredth of water compared to city dwellers celebrating Holi. Urbanites, like many other occasions, have made Holi also an event of consumption in excess. Cities drain water by thousands of liters in one day where as villages countrywide are praying for drinkable water. That’s criminal waste in the name of celebration. I heard loudspeakers discouraging wastage of any water here in Uttar Pradesh, even referring to the grim of water shortage situation in Marathwada, Maharashtra. The ministry refused to supply water in cities on Holi day, to avoid its wastage. Good call I say.

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Day unfurls at Nandgaon.

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The magnum opus, after hours of waiting in the sun.

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Now, a photographer’s guide to shooting Holi at Mathura.

  • What to expect : generally.

    • Mathura is in Uttar Pradesh. It becomes very hot during the day so carry a cap, sunscreen, water bottle, cotton clothes, eye gear etc.
    • Uttar Pradesh, or U.P. as its also popularly known, is not a very developed state. So, expect horrible roads, dust everywhere, back breaking public transport.
    • Honking horns. I’m not exaggerating, these guys love to honk. You can easily get a headache, migraine or anything worse. There’s not much you can do about it. I tried paying the driver a little extra if he wouldn’t honk. My instruction was remembered for all of fifteen seconds, may be.
    • Bad food, which is not even cheap. It’s the perfect example of “chalta hai” or “anything is fine” attitude that you see here. The food is mixed with adulterants, cooked in unhealthy oil, and served in unsanitary conditions. Though I didn’t get a bad stomach, but still, its not worth the risk.
    • Litter everywhere. As I always observe some of the most holy places in India are the filthiest. This, the birth place of Lord Krishna is no different. There are used plates, water bottles, polythene bags, animal shit and lost footwear everywhere.
    • On top of that, you are expected to move around the temple premises bare feet. if this is not a test of faith, then I can’t imagine what is. #sarcasm.
    • A lot of people. And by that I mean so many people that you can drown, or worse, get hurt in a stampede. India is the second largest population in the world, but seventh in terms of size, so population is densely packed, and especially on Holi, “they’ll find you and squeeze the breath out of you”
  • What to expect : when you’re shooting.

    • Not to mention, water protective gear is an absolute must. There are enough options available online, fit for every budget, so I wouldn’t discuss them at length.
    • Carry disposable, cheap slippers. You’ll have to remove them at temples and chances of finding them back are less than winning a lottery. Best is remove and carry slippers in your backpack.
    • A head gear and raincoat can come in handy.
    • If you are a foreigner, then you will be targeted. Just go with the flow, and understand that these people generally don’t mean harm.
    • If you are a woman you will be targeted. No discounts here.
    • If you want to have your gear safe, don’t walk with above mentioned categories of people. 😉
    • Wide angle lens is your best bet, plus a portrait prime lens. Super zooms will rarely be needed.
    • If you thought that knowing the golden rules of composition, exposure compensations, and aperture settings are enough to get you applause worthy pictures, you’re wrong buddy.
    • The real talent is in getting a shot without any other photographer, lens hood, someone’s backpack, shoulder, torso etc in the frame.
    • This event is so popular that there are more photographers than subjects. Fact of life.
    • Have your dates and modes of transport planned out well in advance. Start day early to get best spots and avoid traffic. Surprisingly, everyone knows and follows this rule. #bloddy. 🙂
    • Carry multiple pairs of disposable clothes.
  • Events you cannot afford to miss : Holi at Barsana, Holi at Nandgaon, Holi at vrindawan of the widows, Holi banke bihari temple at Vrindavan.
  • Here is another guide that I referred to and is useful : http://www.sid-thewanderer.com/2016/01/how-to-plan-and-celebrate-holi-2016-in.html

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Another day of revelry and celebration of love and color comes to an end.

Thanks for dropping by 🙂

Some more visual stories, comments and critique invited.

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These colorful houses and lanes are found in Nandgaon, and kids a glad as ever to pose..!
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A lot of eunuchs and transvestites are ardent followers of Radha in the faith of having a normal birth in next life.

And lastly…


lost my heart

Our day would start with this gentleman singing Holi songs and making lip smacking chai at he same time..! how cool. Check it out.


4 thoughts on ““Radhe Radhe” – Mathura 2016

  1. i remember those two foreigners (the ones sprayed with yellow colour). i was just standing a bit away from the corner ! means i was standing near by you! 😮

  2. Very unique photos of mathura…different from normal vision…never thought it wud be so nice..thanks to vishal for capturin such a great album…mind blowin…great work ….keep it up….

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