Yogi Adityanath wants folk narratives and philosophies from other regions of the country and beyond to culminate and find a warm corner in Uttar Pradesh.
On the first day of Lathmar Holi, the renowned tradition in Barsana associated with Radha and Krishna, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath is expected to join the celebrations in Rangeeli Gali to mark his presence at Rangotsav, the festival of colours dedicated to Braj.
Rangeeli Gali is billowing with gulal, people, and policemen. Holi revelers are in form and poetic control. Women, from wherever that they have arrived here, are given melodious tributes. It’s Radha’s day, after all.
“Koi hai gori, koi kaali re rasiya,” one sings. “Koi Gokul se, koi media se, rasiya,” sings another. Eccentric and graceful, Rangeeli Gali swells in “Aaj Biraj mein, Holi re, rasiya.” In the spirit of Holi, someone cracks a political phrase. “Lath aur Lathmar”, referring to Yogi Adityanath’s response to law and order and crackdown on cheating, and his vision of culture.
Chief Minister Adityanath is a man of pace and “promise”. The UP Investors Summit, a two-day event meant to showcase Uttar Pradesh’s potential as a state with plenty of opportunities, concluded on 22 February. The next day, the Chief Minister attended Rasotsav, an event preceding Rangotsav, where renowned artists, flautist Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia and vocalist Pandit Jasraj, celebrate sringar, bhakti, and rasa through music, in Mathura. Then, Lathmar in Barsana.
After 3pm, when Adityanath is scheduled to visit the lane, horiyaras, as Holi revelers are known here, would begin to peak in numbers. “For Yogiji, the walk to Rangeeli Gali could be tougher than the entire yatra of Chaurassee Koas,” a horiyara walking through the lane, says. The idea of the Chief Minister’s presence in Rangeeli Gali, which, it is said, he is expected to cover by walking the stretch from a spot near Priya Kund, seems fairly difficult from the security point of view.
Heaps and heaps of gulal settle on the head. Radha, a devotee from Rewari, Haryana, sits surrounded by a few clay tumblers full of buttermilk, some dilemma, and a half-dozen foreigners taking her pictures. In Barsana to visit Shri Radha Rani Mandir, she carries a miniature cradle made of brass, of Laddoo Gopal, the baal roop of Krishna, in her arms as a mark of devotion to the love of Radha and Krishna.
Radha tells her relatives, “I want to be back from the temple in time to see Yogiji participate in Lathmar Holi.”
The Chief Minister, in his efforts to pitch the Holi traditions of Mathura, Barsana, Vrindavan, and Nandgaon in Uttar Pradesh’s tourism graph, and India’s, celebrates Holi in Rangotsav, a festival of colours.
On 23 February, walls in Mathura “painted saffron for the CM's arrival” caught the media’s attention, but saffron, in Rangotsav’s context, especially in Barsana, more suitably points at the Chief Minister’s presence and identity.
Moments after helicopters hover over Radha Bihari Inter College, the venue for Adityanath’s celebration of Barsana’s Lathmar Holi in Rangotsava, phones start ringing at the makeshift dais for the media. A man on this dais, visibly drowsy under the spell of sun and gulal sitting on his head, yells into his phone, “Holi manaa rahe hain to Eid manayenge ki nahin? Haan, sunaa. (Would he celebrate Eid if he is celebrating Holi? I heard.)”
“Radhey Radhey,” Barsana greets sensational hodge-podge.
“Radhey Radhey,” Barsana greets the Chief Minister’s helicopters.
“Holi manaa rahe hain to Eid manayenge ki nahin?” moves around a bit on the media dais, and drowns to drums. Drums from Manipur, Haryana, and Maharashtra have been brought to Barsana for Rangotsav. The drums from the three states leave no room for noise. And when they meet the percussion from Uttar Pradesh, in Barsana’s Holi, any noise, every noise, drowns and dissolves in dust and gulal.
“Radhey Radhey,” Barsana greets Radha.
“Radhey Radhey,” Barsana greets Nandgaon, Krishna, his Mathura, his universe.
Barsana’s Holi points at Adityanath’s roving attention to the teerth sthalas in and around Mathura. It points at the Chief Minister’s place, in giving Uttar Pradesh partners in states that go with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s slogan of “Ek Bharat, sreshth Bharat” – partners in Haryana (Uttar Pradesh was the theme for this year's Surajkund International Crafts Mela), Maharashtra, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, and others.
Adityanath’s Rangotsav, which comes after the Deepotsav when Ayodhya saw the glow and glory of oil lamps, lights, and celebrations last year in October, puts the focus on Barsana and Nandgaon. “Barasana’s Holi will now get significance internationally. Artistes from different parts of Bharat have come to Barasana to be part of Holi celebrations. This is in harmony with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's vision and idea of Ek Bharat, shreshth Bharat,” the Chief Minister says in his speech to Barsana.
Barsana’s element and share in Mathura’s Rangotsav, thought and conceived as a parallel in colours to Ayodhya’s celebration in Deepotsava, seems capable of surprising even the Chief Minister on the first day of Lathmar. It’s a sweet meeting of the local and the regional. It flows in rapturous measures and expressions.
“Radhey Radhey,” Barsana greets Chief Minister Adityanath.
“Radhey Radhey,” Barsana greets a special guest, Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar, who is present at the Lathmar Holi celebrations at the grounds.
In Barsana, Adityanath declares Brindavan, Barsana, Nandgaon, Govardhan, Radhakund, Gokul, and Baldev pilgrimage sites. It’s one of the initiatives taken towards Narendra Modi government's vision of establishing the Krishna circuit.
“Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj ki Jai.” There is a thunderous response from another dais at the grounds, where artists from other states are performing on an invitation from the Adityanath government. Saffron flags and a metal gong flutter. Drums break the momentum of invocations.
Vaishali Babhulkar, a young drummer from Nagpur, who is in Barsana with other members of a Nagpur-based dhol tasha troupe, smiles, as thousands of horiyaras present on the college grounds roar back praises to Radha and Krishna in response to their rendition. “We have never heard or seen anything like this before. Maharashtra should stay with Barsana in Lathmar,” someone in the crowd, seated a step away from the dais, says. “Arre jao. They are with Nandgaon. Don’t you see what day they are performing on?” someone counters it, jokingly.
Sounds of dhol tasha pathak, the drumming tradition associated largely with the Ganesh Utsav in Maharashtra, reach horiyaras spread across Barsana. Soon, more pour into the grounds, in droves, and in hundreds, from two gates, walking through clouds of dust and gulal.
“Radhey Radhey”, Barsana greets Maharashtra.
“Radhey Radhey”, Barsana greets Haryana.
At Rangotsav, a reference to Ganesha comes not from Maharashtra, but from Haryana. In songs. Something is different in Barsana’s Holi this year, even as it remains the same. The difference is the celebration of similarity through performing arts from other regions.
Farmers from Haryana, in two groups, dressed in white kurtas and crisp turbans, sing horees, songs dedicated to the festival of colours, and beat 101 drums, known traditionally, as bambs. “It is an honour to perform on Holi for Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. We had even welcomed Narendra Modi with our music during his election speech in Haryana, before he became prime minister,” says Rajpal Singh.
The artists from Haryana are joined by singers and drummers, mostly farmers, from near Barsana. Devi Ram says, “Though there are a number of songs associated with the harvest season, compositions dedicated to colour and burning of Holika have a special place in our culture. There are songs for Barsana in Nandgaon, there are songs for Nandgaon in Barsana.”
Boys accompanying these elders pull out metal pichkaarees.
“Radhey Radhey,” Barsana greets farmers.
“Radhey Radhey,” Barsana greets its own from Barsana.
Hindus and Muslims, people from Barsana and beyond, watch, for the first time, performing arts they haven’t before, including Manipuri Raas. Shyam Bihari, a horiyara, says, “For the first time, the people of Barsana and Nandgaon have found a reason other than Radha and Krishna, to leave their villages and Rangeeli Gali on Lathmar. This is new to us.”
Shyam is armed with a shield. Wrapped thick in pretty cloth, the shield would protect him from the shower of sticks of Barsana women, some hours from now, in Rangeeli Gali.
A few other horiyaras follow Shyam, managing to make their way between pushes and shoves, trying to make some room for his feet so that he can stand and watch the dramatic depiction of Keli Gopal, a classic composed by Srimata Sankaradeva, renowned sixteenth-century socio-religious reformer of Assam.
Shyam’s passage through the crowd is rough; it makes cops nervous. One moment of commotion can lead to a stampede. As Shyam moves, crowds engrossed in watching episodes of Keli Gopal get distracted. Everyone looks back. Madan, a farmer from a village near Barsana, cannot bear distractions. He shouts, “What are you looking at these Lathmar men for? You have watched them all your life. Look at the beautiful leela from Assam.”
This spark of hunger for knowing another culture, another art form, this bursting of an appetite to witness a narrative from the North East, uninterrupted, the urge to rapidly embrace it, is seen in the purest, in the most raw expression, in Barsana, as it is often seen on the ghats of Benaras, as it would, in Ayodhya.
Xatradhikar (or Satradhikar) of Uttar Kamalabari xatra (or satra), Sri Sri Janardan Dev Goswami, is present during the performance by men from his xatra (one of the Vaishnavite monasteries and seats of spiritual knowledge, culture, and learning). Known for his efforts in reaching out to the masses in his region, the Xatradhikar gets an opportunity to connect indirectly with the masses from the land of Radha and Krishna. Barsana offers responses in devotion to performers from Majuli.
Sringara, the dominant sentiment in Keli Gopal, occupies Barsana, but many are moved by its depiction of gopis, which is as relevant to the sensibilities of the people of Assam, as it is to the people of Nandgaon and Barsana. “The performers, all celibates, stay and practise in Majuli. Performing rasa lila in Barsana is of great symbolic importance to us,” Sudarshanji, who is accompanying the Xatradhikar and the troupe from Uttar Kamalabari xatra, says.
“Radhey Radhey,” Barsana greets the artists from Majuli.
“Radhey Radhey,” Barsana greets the cultural legacy of Srimata Sankaradeva.
Extracting the best out of this appetite for cultural narratives in people of Uttar Pradesh, in his effort to connect the local with the regional, national, and global through culture tourism, would be an intangible achievement of the Adityanath government.
Critics may bracket cultural tourism as a “low-hanging fruit” in Adityanath's focus on raising Uttar Pradesh through various governance, economic, and culture initiatives. It could, however, silently become one of the turning points in the state’s political journey. Laxmi Narayan Chaudhary, a minister in the Adityanath government, says, “The entire idea behind Deepotsav in Ayodhya and Rangotsav in Mathura and Barsana is to give the traditions, reeti, rivaz, and festivals of Uttar Pradesh the glory and support they deserve. Kuchh inmein se pehle hi vishwa mein jaani jaati hain. Efforts are on to increase people's participation.”
The message is clear. A lot is riding on Uttar Pradesh, and for the Chief Minister and the Bharatiya Janata Party. While celebrating traditions, cultural treasures, and heritage of Uttar Pradesh within their cradles and sites, Adityanath wants folk narratives and philosophies from other regions to culminate and find a warm corner in Uttar Pradesh. “I would like to strengthen the cultural ties between states in North East and Uttar Pradesh,” he says in his speech to Barsana.
Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, it seems, will not rewrite Uttar Pradesh's culture story in seclusion.