Braj ki Holi is one of the finest festivals in India and on every Indian photographer’s bucket list.
Kickstarting almost 8 days before the actual Holi date, Braj ki Holi has a deep significance in Indian Mythology.
No wonder it finds mentions in Hindustani classical raags and traditional folk songs.
Enter the Hindu month of ‘phagun’ and most temples in North India start celebrations in temples by singing ‘Rasiya’ ( local holi songs) and adorning the idols with gulaal (Pink color).
According to stories, Krishna and his friends from Nandgaon used to visit Barsana to meet Radha and other gopis, to play Holi with her.
They expected to be greeted with colors, but the girls chased the away with sticks.
This tradition is followed till date and Men from Nandgaon get beaten by women from Barsana, all in good jest. While the men try their best to protect themselves, they also manage to provoke the women by teasing and singing songs.
The women in veils in full swing 🙂
and then we see men in tears;)
If you are planning a Photo trip this year, to Vrindavan, Barsana, Nandgaon to capture the colors and chaos, here are a few handy tips before you go.
1. Research and Planning:
The most important tip is to plan your trip. Surprises are beautiful but not when you land up on a day you wouldn’t want to or miss an event you’d love to capture.
Here are a few dates with events. (Please note : These are the dates This year) Dates change every year.
March 16, 2016 : LaduMaar Holi in Barsana ( played with laddos and exchanging sweets) Dry Holi
March 17, 2016: Lathmaar Holi in Barsana at Rangeeli Galli
March 18,2016 : Lathmaar Holi and samaaj at Nandgaon.
March 19, 2016: Holi kickstarts at Banke Bihari temple at Vrindavan.
March 19, 2016 : Evening : Phool Holi on Ekadashi day.
March 20- 23, 2016: Full fledged celebrations in Banke Bihari temple at Vrindavan.
Simultaneously there are functions in Dwarkadheesh temple in Mathura and Dauji Temple in Gokul, between March 19-23.
Gokul also has a Kapda-Faad holi or the Huranga, which is insanely crazy, where men are stripped off their clothing.
Wherever you choose to go, remember: Roads will be blocked and if you are traveling by taxi/bus, you will be asked to get off almost a couple of KMs away and then enter the town on foot or local rickshaws.
2. Local Help:
There is no help like local help. I was helped by a 10 year old kid to enter Barsana through a lesser know way, to avoid barricades.
Similarly, a lot of ladies playing the Lathmaar Holi are great help too. They excitedly tell you stories about the event and also act as effective guides.
Local policemen offer help when asked. If you are a lady, they will advise you areas to stay away from and can help you with all other vital information.
Also a lot of local priests in temples can help with vantage points in exchange for a monetary tip.
At the same time is important to not fully trust people, as most of them are bound to be under the influence of Bhaang. That brings us to the point of safety.
While there are a lot of helpful locals, there are equal number of miscreants and anti social elements, which take the ‘Lets-act-Krishna-and-tease-the-gopis’ very seriously.
For women, it is very vital to ensure safety.
Thumb rule: This is not an event for SOLO travel. Please read Emily’s Girl’s guide to Holi in India.
All the areas are heavily crowded, make sure you travel with a group. Stick to VIP areas in Barsana, where policemen are in abundance.
Needless to say, it is indeed foolish to try Bhang at such occasions and places.
4. Gear Selection:
Absolutely important because you would not want to lug around with a lot of lenses.
It is impossible to change lenses amidst the crowd when color clouds are in the air.
So it is advised you carry two cameras with different lenses.
My choice would be a wide angle lens and a standard 18-55. A telephoto zoom lens is amazingly helpful for portraits.
Inside the temple, it is important to have a fast lens that can help clicking in low light.
5. Gear Protection:
The most common challenge after self protection is gear protection.
The best way to secure your camera is a Rain cover which helps you combat the colors, even wet ones.
Try also attaching the hood to protect the lens further from a direct array of colors.
You cannot change the zoom settings if you cover your lens with a lens cover. So it is quite possible that you will have to shoot at a single focal length sometimes. Which is okay! Its a great learning experience. At the Lathmaar holi, do not get too close to the action scene. The women are too ferocious and their sticks don’t spare cameras at times.
Make sure your memory card is empty and batteries are fully charged because there really isnt any scope to change them in the middle of all the colour riot.
In the Banke Bihari temple, its best to take permission from the temple Manager, a day before so you have a written consent to shoot and the guards won’t trouble you.
The declaration is simply to ensure that you do not click the idol.
7. Moment Vs Composition:
Despite all the challenges, Holi at Barsana and Vrindavan is one of the most thrilling experiences.
Not only is it a nerve cracking adventure but also a great learning experience in photography.
There are times people will photo bomb your award winning picture, there are times you will get a fabulous moment, poorly composed. But its all part of the awesome experience.
In my opinion, its best to forget the compositions and soak in the colors, the moments will follow and reflect in the pictures.
This blog was written for all those people who are unable to attend the travel talk on Holi today evening in Bandra, Mumbai at Temperance Studio.
For any further queries, please feel free to reach out to me.
More on Braj ki Holi: