Amid a festive atmosphere full of colors, music, and dances, a group of Indian women raises their long wooden poles to hit the men of the rival town, who protect themselves as they can behind their shields, in a special and advanced celebration of the Traditional Holi from India.
It is the “Lathmar” Holi (literally “beat with sticks”), a variant of the popular Hindu festival of colors that is celebrated during this weekend in two small villages in the state of Uttar Pradesh, in the north of the country.
The party, which began on Saturday in Barsana to continue on Sunday in the neighboring town of Nandgaon, attracts thousands of people who throw tons of colored powder, known as “gulal”, shouting “Happy Holi!” a week before the rest of the Indians celebrate Holi.
“The men of Nandgaon come to play the Holi with the ‘gopis’ (shepherds) of Barsana, like Lord Krishna with Radha”, tells one of the people in charge of the main Hindu temple of the locality, seated in the high altar.
According to this legend, the god Krishna, always young and mischievous, went from Nandgaon to visit his beloved Radha, who lived in Barsana, laden with colored powders.
There, at the insistence of her provocations, Radha and her friends ended up throwing her from the town with blows.
From early in the morning, a stream of people packed the narrow streets of Barsana with their ammunition ready to paint the faces of everyone who gets in their way.
The traders in the area do not stop selling multicolored bags, while the younger ones use handguns and buckets of water to soak up the most neglected.
The crowd constantly climbs and descends the stairs that lead to the temple of Radha Rani, where the festivities take their most apotheosis point: there, before the main altar, a curtain covers and uncovers the image of Krishna, which the attendees try to reach with their colored powders.
Other more devotees throw themselves to the ground and wallow in “gulal” formulating their prayers for the Hindu god, no matter how dirty their clothes are.
In the entrance courtyard to the temple, hundreds of people play, sing and dance different Indian rhythms, some of them too uninhibited after consuming “bhang”, a drink made mainly with milk and cannabis, typical of this festival.
Afternoon, the men of Nandgaon arrive in Barsana dressed in orange turbans and with their shields prepared, and go up to the temple forming rows among the assistants, who fill them with water and “gulal”.
After concluding their prayers to Krishna, the “invaders” descend to the village and that is when the local women, covered with long veils that cover their faces, prepare their wooden sticks to hit with force and “expel” the visitors that go to conquer them.
“It’s the tradition (…) My grandparents, my parents and now we were doing it since we were little,” says the young Rajat, 24 years old and coming from Nandgaon, with his shield ready, just before going down the stairs and receive his “punishment”.
At the meeting, there are also dozens of foreign tourists who dare to challenge the Indians with their cameras, perfectly protected with garbage bags and plastic to avoid spoiling them, in order to immortalize such a curious and colorful picture.
Among them, a group of friends comes from Madrid on a photographic journey and whose first stop is this “authentic” festival.
“We had vacationed for the April fair and we have canceled them to come to the Holi fair”, assures Efe Paco, soaked to the top after a child threw a bucket of water from the balcony.
When the sun begins to fall, the thousands of people who on Saturday approached Barsana retire from the village, exhausted and with all the clothes stained, but still with forces for the “battle” that the next day is celebrated in the neighboring town.
Now the tables are changed and it will be the women of Nandgaon who hit their rivals with their sticks, amid a new explosion of colored powders, music, and fun.