Kullu Celebrates Brij ki Holi
Dr Dev Kanya Thakur
Indian culture is deeply interwoven with religion. Religious festivals dot the Indian calendar taking place round the year one after the other. But the level and grandeur of some celebrations make them place specific. Holi, the festival of colors is an occasion where every soul in India unites to rejuvenate in the spirit of love and togetherness blended in various colors. Mathura and Vrindavan are the most happening destinations during holi. We all are aware about Brij holi of Mathura and Lathmar holi of Vrindavan. People think that nowhere else in India will they see celebration as grand as that of Mathura and Vrindavan. Not many are however aware of the holi celebration of Kullu. If the 40 days long festivities here are to be observed one will find them on the lines similar to those of Mathura and Varanasi. Dry Holi starts from Vasant Panchami i.e. exactly a month and a half prior to the day of holi. The festivities begin when the idols of mukhya devta of Kullu valley Shri Raghunathji is brought out in a palanquin to Chaugan (open ground) in front of the palace in Sultanpur on Vasant Panchmi where all the rituals are followed by the Charibardaar (the head of royal family), Karkoons (followers of lord Rama), Mahants (Vaishnavite / worshippers of lord Vishnu).
G.C. Chambyal, a resident of Kullu says, “It is conviction of the Kullu people that disguised Hanuman when moves around the mob he smears the people with his body colour. Whosoever gets blemished with his color, the coming year would prove lucky for him.” After performing all the rituals charibardaar and priests of Shri Raghunathji smear gulal to the idol of Raghunathji. Eight days before holi, charibardaar and priests sing holy hymns and anoint the idols of Raghunathji every evening. Shri Maheshwar Singh, charibardaar (head of royal family) says, “The festival started here in the 16th century at the time of Raja Jagat Singh, when some Vaishnavite had come to Kullu along with the idols of Raghunathji and later on they settled here in Akhara”.
On the day of Holaashtak i.e. eight days before the holika dahan, Vaishnavites who are known as vairagi mahants in Kullu, assemble in groups in the evening at Akhara and move to Sultanpur playing traditional musical instruments like majira and daff, singing the holy hymns of lord Krishna. When they reach the temple of Raghunathji they sing the hymns like kanha dharo re Mukut khelae re holi, these are the same holy hymns which are sung in Mathura. On the day of holashtak, kumkum is added to the gulal and then along with charibardaar, priests of temple and Vairagi Mahant all smear the idols of Raghunathji with gulal and kumkum . These Vairagi Mahants come daily to the temple in the evening following the same tradition till holika dahan. On the 40th day i.e. on holi children, ladies, boys and men move to Kullu town in different groups singing and smearing each other. At last these groups move towards Sultanpur for the Palace where these groups anoint holi with the royal family.
In the evening, holika dahan is performed in which an effigy of Holika (the evil demon sister) is burnt in bonfire that epitomizes the defeat of evil. For that Raghunathji is brought out of the temple to the Chaugan in the evening according to the auspicious time. One interesting feature of Holika Dahan here is that simultaneously two effigies of Holika are burnt here. Shri Maheshwar Singh, charibardaar of Raghunathji says,” These effigies are called faag in Kullu. One effigy is bigger and the second one is smaller in size. The bigger one is burnt in the name of Raghunathji and the smaller in the name of palace temple. Before holika dahan both the effigies are sanctified and then the charibardaar takes four rounds of the bigger effigy and then lits the fire. Then second Holika is thrown in fire by charibardaar, priests and vairagi mahant. At the time of holika dahan atmosphere here is full of enthusiasm. The little known Holi festival of Kullu is indeed in keeping with the age old rituals and practices. The level of celebrations associates it with those of Mathura and Vrindavan. The festivities can be of great interest and attraction for the tourists as well as the people of Himachal.
The legend associated with the celebration is that when lord Rama went on exile with Lakshmana and Sita, Bharat, the younger brother of Rama refused to sit on the throne. He requested Guru Vishisht to favour him and help him to bring Rama back from exile. When Rama saw his guru Vishisht, he went to him and touched his feet for seeking his blessings. Then Bharat touched the feet of his brother and requested him to come back to Ayodhya. But lord Rama stuck to his words. Then Bharat took charan Padukas of lord rama and announced that until lord Rama comes back from exile, he will keep these charan padukas on the throne. This epic story is being enacted here in Chaugan every year since the time of Raja Jagat Singh during 16th century. The elder pujari of temple acts as Lord Rama and younger pujari acts as Bharat. The younger pujari touches the feet of elder pujari. One man who is completely coloured in orange is disguised as Hanuman. In sheer ecstasy he runs between the crowds, who have gathered to watch the event.