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A riot of festivities

Dilip Guha, Divya Giri, Hasrat Sandhu and Rakesh Kumar |


Holi is a festival associated with color. Equally colourful are the rituals that go with the festival. While one is familiar with the usual Holi celebrations, where friends, neighbors and relatives smear colour ~ gulal and watercolours ~ on each other and there’s much revelry, the spring festival brings with it a myriad forms of celebrations.

Few know about the celebrations associated with spring that are held in several parts of the country, which are as colourful and full of fervour and joy.Team Statesman brings a few snapshots of some little known festivities that have been traditionally observed.

The same spirit and fervour can be seen in Bangladesh too. A mixture of carefree revelry and a bid to maintain national identity marks the celebrations in the country. People, mostly choosing to wear yellow, throw coloured powder at each other and hold cultural performances.

The ancient festival, that is also popular with non-Hindus, is prominent in Dhaka, at the thousand-year old Dhakeswari Mandir, as well as other places across the country. Festive processions are brought out at the Dhaka University, Arts Institute and Jagannath University.

The participatory mode of celebration incorporates a tradition that dates back beyond Rabindranath Tagore. A century after the demise of the great bard, Fakir Lalon Sha, his songs and philosophy continue in the form of folk music among the people of Bangladesh.

Every year, people from home and abroad visit Lalon’s shrine at Chheuria in Kumarkhali, near Kushtia town, and pay homage to the great bard. A large number of Baul singers and enthusiasts attend the akhda during Dol-Purnima.

The bauls pay endless tributes to their spiritual leader with their passionate rendition of Lalon songs. Visitors stay awake the whole night and participate in the music presentations.

Basanta Utsav

Initiated by Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore at Vishwabharati, Shantiniketan, Basanta Utsav is a beautiful welcome to spring. Filled with colours and music, the festival sees much fervour in Shantiniketan. People dance on the streets of Bhirbhum district to the tunes of Tagore songs, igniting feelings of joy.

Dressed in traditional attire, students and teachers go around the campus singing, “Ore grihabasi, khol dwar khol,laglo je dol,” urging people to open their doors and usher in the spring festivities. Tagore appropriated the concept of joy and brotherhood that he saw in the celebration of Holi and initiated Basanta Utsav on the day of Dol Purnima (full moon day of Falgun).

Basanta Utsav

The poet-sage did not limit the Utsav to the mythical celebration of the triumph of good over evil. He rather focused on the change in nature and its shaping influence on our cultural and spiritual identity. A three-day Basanta Utsav folk festival is also organised in the Purulia district of West Bengal.

Apart from playing Holi, performances include the Chau dance, Darbari Jhumur and songs by Baul musicians. Idols of Krishna and Radha are placed in a decorative palanquin and taken around the main streets. Devotees take turns to swing the palanquin while women dance and sing devotional songs.


The spring festival is celebrated in Manipur as Yaosang. The festival, considered the most important festival of Manipur, is celebrated for five days, starting on the full moon of Lamba (February- March). Yaosang begins after sunset in every village with the Yaosang mei thaba, or burning of the straw hut. Later, little children go door-to-door seeking monetary donations, called nakatheng.

On the second day, groups of local bands assemble at one place and perform Sankirtan in the Govindagee temple in Imphal- East district. On the second and third days, girls ask for their nakatheng, blocking roads with ropes. On the fourth and fifth days, people pour or splash water on one another. This festival is enjoyed by all age groups and features Thabal Chongba (dancing in the moonlight).

Men dance in circles with the ladies, holding their hands. The locals also engage in feasting to celebrate this festival of merrymaking. The festival witnesses sports too ~ several talents at the grassroot level have been picked up here. The five-day-long sports festival in every nook and corner of the state is the most important aspect of Yaosang.


A transformation from a festival of colours to festival of sports has been occurring in modern Manipur over the last five decades. Sports competitions start after visiting the sacred Kangla Fort to light the torch and inaugurate the sports meet.

The competitions consist primarily of games that are easy to play and fun to watch, like spoon racing, mathematical racing, tug of war and soccer. On the last day, every club usually organises a half marathon, which is a part of the festival.

Apart from its festivities, Yaoshang has served as a useful platform to hunt for talents of young people in several fields of personality development. Children are given enough exposure to competitive events.

For the elders, Yaoshang serves as a valuable recreation time. It is a meaningful rendezvous, where local people of all ages meet, interact, share, exchange views and ideas among themselves.

Hola Mahalla

Also called Hola, this is a day-long Sikh festival, which is held on the second day of the lunar month of Chet, a day after Holi. Hola Mahalla is a big festive event for Sikhs around the world and also marks the beginning of the Sikh New Year. A fair, held during Holi and Hola at Anandpur Sahib, is traditionally a three-day event but participants attend Anandpur Sahib for a week, camping out and enjoying various displays of fighting prowess and bravery, as well as listening to kirtan, music and poetry.

For meals, which is an integral part of the Sikh Gurdwara, visitors sit together in Pangats (queues) and eat vegetarian food of the Langar. The event concludes on the day of Hola Mahalla with a long, military-style procession near Takht Sri Keshgarh Sahib, one of the five seats of temporal authority of the Sikhs. The festival was founded by Guru Gobind Singh, the 10th Sikh guru.

The Guru was in the midst of fighting both the Mughals led by Aurangzeb and the Hill Rajputs, and had recently established the Khalsa Panth. On 7 March, 1701, Guru Gobind Singh started a new tradition by overseeing a day of mock battles and poetry contests at Lohgarh Fort. The tradition has since spread from the town of Anandpur Sahib to nearby Kiratpur Sahib and the foothills of the Shivaliks, as also other Gurdwaras around the world.

Hola Mahalla

Mahalia is a Punjabi word that implies an organised procession in the form of an army column accompanied by war drums and standard-bearers, proceeding to a given location. The Guru made Hola Mahalla an occasion for the Sikhs to demonstrate their martial skills in simulated battles.

This was probably done to forestall a grimmer struggle against the imperial power and channeling people’s energy into a more useful activity. Hola Mahalla became an annual event held in an open ground near Holgarh, a fort across the rivulet Charan Ganga, northwest of Anandpur sahib. Nihangs, the members of the Khalsa army, are prominent at the Hola Mahalla festival.

On this three-day grand festival, mock battles, exhibitions and display of weapons are followed by kirtan, music and poetry competitions. The participants perform daring feats, such as Gatka (mock encounters with real weapons), tent pegging, bareback horse-riding and standing astride two galloping horses.

On the last day a long procession, led by Panj Pyaras, starts from Takhat Keshgarh Sahib, one of the five Sikh religious seats, and passes through various important gurdwaras like Qila Anandgarh, Lohgarh Sahib, Mata Jitoji and terminates at the Takhat (Keshgarh).

Himachal Pradesh

Holi in the hill state is celebrated in a similar way as in the rest of northern India. They light the Holika bonfire the day before Holi and the next morning throw colours on everyone. However, what makes Holi different in Himachal Pradesh is a four-day folk festival in Sujanpur. This cultural fair, which starts four days prior to Holi and culminates on the final day, has been celebrated from centuries.

Historically, it originates from the erstwhile Katoch ruler Sansar Chand, who is said to put aside his royalty and participate in this colourful festival with the masses. After splashing colours on his queens and relatives in the palace, he would set out on the streets among the common people. It was Sansar Chand, who started this cultural fair in the state. During the fair one can catch a glimpse of the state’s culture, food and art.

At the same time, different forms of folk songs and performances keep the visitors entertained and engaged. Other than this fair, the people of Himachal Pradesh gather at the holy shrine of Ponta Sahib in Sirmour district. The shrine is highly revered among locals and Holi is considered the most auspicious day to seek blessings.

Gaura Purnima

The advent of spring, is traditionally celebrated as Gaura Purnima at Nabadwip in Nadia district. A Vaisnava festival, it celebrates the divine appearance of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in 1486. Gaura Purnima means Golden Full Moon, which refers Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.

Gaura Purnima

Devotees spend the day fasting and in the evening a grand vegetarian feast is offered to god and then enjoyed by all. The month-long celebrations that begin in mid-February peak on Gaura Purnima day at the Iskcon Chandradaya Temple and other temples at Mayapur. This year, over a lakh devotees and pilgrims from across the world are expected to celebrate the 532nd birth anniversary of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.

Devotees are expected to take part in the Nabadwip Mandal Parikrama, walking almost 80 km, covering all the major sites associated with Sri Chaitanya Maha Prabhu. The line, “Ranga hashi rashi rashi ashokey palashey”, describing the happy colours of spring, is from one of Tagore’s most famous songs, “Ore Grihobashi”, and is a favourite in the morning procession on the streets.

Dol Purnima at Chelyama, Purulia district

Dol, or Holi, is celebrated in a unique way in some parts of Purulia, especially at Chelyama in Raghunathpur. An overnight journey from Howrah, tourists throng the village during Holi season. The beauty of the place lies in the fact that there is forest all around the place with some dilapidated temples and the river Damodar.

A number of Rekh Deuls (Orissa schools of temple architecture) were submerged after a dam was erected by the Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC). The Dol festival is organised around a magnificent temple dating back to the 8th century ~ Bandhar Deul. Villagers say the deity was stolen many years back and no one now knows which God the temple was dedicated to.

Visitors wake up to the sound of birds to be greeted by a baul singer strumming his ektara and singing, “Bhenge mor ghorer chabi, niye jabi ke amare!” or “Vajo gaournago loho gourango…” Smeared in colours of every hue, tourists mix with local villagers, singing and dancing through the morning. Glasses of Mohua, the famous local brew, are consumed as the fiery red Palash trees add to the festive feel.

Cultural programmes are held in the evenings and one can enjoy Chhau, Jhumur and various other folk dances as well as Baul Fakiri songs. The Bauls come all the way from Asan-nagar in Nadia district.

About 10,000 people from nearby villages watch the evening performances, giving the place the feel of a huge mela. Kabi-sammelan and bonfire with Natua dance on the cold nights are memorable.