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Thursday, April 10, 2014

Celebrating Holi: The Barpeta Way

Holi is a festival which is loved by almost everyone. Some of the most vivid and colourful images of Holi come to our minds from the ones that come in from places like Mathura and Vrindavan. In Assam, celebrating Holi has been a major activity for the people of the Vaishnav faith. The Satras (Vaishnav monasteries) have their own individual traditions of celebrating Holi, but none of them can come to the massive celebrations that take place in Barpeta Satra.

A group of women enjoy the colours of Holi.

The Satra at Barpeta town is regarded as the prime Satra in Assam within the Vaishnav cult, and has a rich tradition of celebrating Holi which is called here as the Doul Utsav or the Xuaeri Utsav. Holi here becomes a festival of three to four days and becomes an occasion for people to wear their new clothes of the year. The city wears a festive look and devotees come in from all corners of Assam to witness the celebrations that reflect the Assamese community’s rich cultural heritage.

Fire crackers being burst on the occasion of the Holika burning ceremony on the first day’s evening.

This year, the Doul Utsav was for three days. The first day sees the celebrations kick off with various groups and teams compete in the Holi Geet contest. The various performers take part in a parade through the main market of the town where they show off their prowess in the traditional Assamese Holi songs. The evening sees people gather in large numbers at the Satra premises to witness the Holika burning ceremony and then the traditional busting of fire crackers, which is one of the prime traditional attractions of the festivals. During this period, the idol of Lord Krishna and his wife, referred to by the locals as Ghunusa are kept out of the main Satra building and in the courtyard where they are worshipped. Day two sees the idols shifted to the Doul building in the premises where people make offerings in the form of Holi colours and incense sticks. The second day also sees the crowd building up within the Satra premises as people gear themselves up for playing Holi the next day.

People gather in the premises of the Satra to witness the Holika burning ceremony.

The idols of Lord Krishna and his wife Ghunusa on display.

The main entrance gate of the Satra decorated for the evenings of the Doul Utsav.

People gather at the Doul temple within the Satra premises to offer pujas to Lord Krishna and Ghunusa on the second day of the Doul Utsav.

A group of young boys indulge in traditional Assamese Holi songs.

The third day sees all the people in the town go wild as they gather up to play Holi. Every nook and corner of the town is painted colourful as people sing traditional Holi Geets and splash colours on each other. Some of the best Holi festivities are seen at the market around the Satra and within the Satra premises itself. 

Holi festivities in full swing at the main market in front of the Satra.

Revelers enjoy the spirit of Holi with colours and songs.

A group of boys enjoy the spirit of Holi.

Fried boiled eggs are the favourite delicacies of Barpeta during the Doul Utsav.

The second half of the day sees large crowds of people gather up at the Satra premises as Krishna and Ghunusa are taken out on two palanquins by a large procession of devotees to the neighbouring village of Ganak Kuchi as part of the celebration finale. Devotees playfully block the path of the Lord throughout the way as the ones carrying the palanquins break their way through it. It is a real treat for the eyes to watch it. Once back from Ganak Kuchi, the palanquins are ritually made to circumnavigate the main Satra building seven times before they are finally put to rest in their traditional spot in the Satra.

Devotees carry the palanquins of Lord Krishna and Ghunusa towards the main gate of the Satra for their trip to Ganak Kuchi.

Lord Krishna’s palanquin being carried by devotees during the circumnavigation process as part of the final day’s ceremony of the festival.

This year saw a massive attendance of people at the Doul Utsav as colours were thrown in the air and traditional Holi Geets were sung by the merry making people of Barpeta. It is a real treat to watch for anybody who wants to see Holi celebrated in a customized Assamese tradition. Next year, The Doul Utsav will held for a period of five days with the final day reportedly culminating on March 8. Trust me, you wouldn’t want to miss that one. 
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