As festivals go, these are the two most colourful festivals in the Pushti Marg calendar. Huge crowds gather from all over the state and beyond. Huge quantities of abil, gulal, and kesudo (white and pink powders and an orange dye) are used. The entire haveli and indeed the town, is transformed into a veritable "pink city"!
In Pushti Marg, the tempo for the festival is built up over several weeks. From Vasant Panchami onwards, the Lord wears white clothes and plays with an ever increasing amount abil and gulal each day. The pichoies in the haveli are also white and are artistically coloured to recreate an atmosphere of Vrindavan in the heart of the haveli. Watered down kesudo is used to simulate clouds while white and pink birds of abil/ gulal flutter around the Lord. With artistic skill, experienced mukhiyajis (chief priests) can recreate various textile designs including the laharia style - very popular in Rajasthan.
The Lord wakes up early - around 5.30am. As there is a chill in the air, the Lord wears a light quilted coat in the Mangala darshan. Red ribbons of His iridescent green coat are tightly tied on His left hand side. Mukhiyaji performs the arti while an assisting priest gently rings the bell in almost muffled tones.
Approximately 1.5 - 2 hours later, the doors of the inner sanctum are flung open to reveal the Lord in his festive gear. A brilliant white ghardar (circular court dress) is topped by a white turban festooned with jewels. Necklaces of precious stones enamel and gold reach below his knees. A long thick garland of fragrant pink roses frames the cascade of jewels. Holding aloft a single rose against a background of green (steele is covered in iridescent green silk), the Lord calls his beloved to come and play holi with Him.
Navnit lal, having woken up late, swings in his palana by the time Shri Nathji has his Gval darshan. The foliage covered cradle is adorned with a thick garland of pink roses, punctuated with yellow and white flowers. After swinging for a while, colours are sprinkled on to the clothes and jewels of the Lord. The Pichoi behind him is soon coloured and covered in kesodo, gulal, abil and streaks of chova by assisting priests. As the Lord swings in the veranda outside his inner sanctum, He is very accessible at this time of the day. This is the best time to actually view and observe the Lord at a close range. Being the naughty Natkhat Nanda Kumar, he plays with colours during this Palana and Rajbhog darshan. The Lord has one pichoi covered at Palana and a new one at Rajbhoj. This is an extravagance only the Lord of Nathadwara can afford !
Shri Nathji plays holi with his temple servants at Rajbhog darshan. Mukhiyaji (or a descendant of Shri Vallabhacharyaji) will initially dab colour on the steele and the surroundings of the Lord. He will than colour the clothes and than the person of the Lord with various colours. Interesting designs are usually created on the clothes and the steele. Polka dots of pink, orange, yellow and red begin to mark the Lord's spotless white clothes. Depending on the skill of the priest, they can group these dots to create tie-dye designs, or use the colours in such a way so as to create lines of alternate colour (lahariya style). Being Holi, the clothes are heavily coloured, transforming the white ghardar into a red one with glowing white jewels of abil. Wavy black lines (from charcoal of sandalwood) are created to make the scene more dynamic.
While the mukhiyaji is playing with the Lord, assistants start to liberally sprinkle the plain white pichoie with kesudo. This provides a wet mordent for the colour that is to be added later. The pale yellow, wet cloth, is than liberally sprinkled with gulal. The pink powder, now wet, turns darker pink / red. Being such a major festive day, the pichoie is covered entirely by gulal. White abil is than used to create striking patters on the red background. Like the Lord's clothes, the pichoie is also finished off with the black lines of chova. Various perfumes are also sprinkled on the bolsters and cushions of the Lord's throne. The awnings, dilwalgiries and chandarvoes are also given a splattering of colour.
Having imbibed the inner sanctum with colour, the mukhiyaji than takes the liberty to splash colour on the devotees. Dolti bari is soon hidden in clouds of pink and white as colour is thrown from the inner sanctum towards the devotes. Soon after this, the Rajbhog arti takes place, it's lamps shining through the colourful hazy fog of powder across the Ratan chok.
ShriNathji remains thus attired till he goes to bed. Garland and jewels may be added or removed according to the darshans, but the clothes and pichoie remain the same. Holi being the day when Prahaldaji had to prove his faith by an ordeal of fire, huge bonfires are lit around the country to commemorate the day. In Shri Nathadwara, the bonfire is lit either after the shayan darshan or just before the Managala darshan on the next day. It all depends on the auspicious nature of the hour, as predicted by the temple astrologers. Most local communities light their own smaller bonfires around the town, but the main one is lit on top of Moti Mangari on the outskirts of the town.
In the shayan darshan, mukhiyaji dabs colour on the chin of the Lord (dadhi rangayo) to mark the beginning of Dhuleti - the actual festival of colour itself !
Being such a busy day, the Lord wakes up an hour early - 4.30am. He is wearing the same green coloured quilted coat as yesterday. The shringar darshan takes place after 2 hours. The Lord wears a white chakra vagh (Chakadar Jama) - a formal coat with four points. The turban is also of white, though it is now topped by a special crown of gold. The garland of pink roses extends to his ankels, framing a glittering array of golden jewels.
Due to the huge crowds, the darshan is kept open for much longer than normal. Every devote is given a chance to do a darshan of the Lord. As this darshan has taken so long to close, the next darshan, Gval, is done internally, and is not open to the public. The temple servants use this time to create the Dol (swing) in the Dolti bari.
The Dol is made out of green foliage, tied to a sturdy poles, and topped by plantain leaves. The foliage on the twin poles is festooned with roses and other fragrant flowers. Shri Navnit Priyaji officiates for Shri Nathji by swinging in this swing. The swing is set right at the back of the Dolti Bari, so that the Lord Shri Nathji and Navnit Priyaji are facing each other on this festive day. Just as Shri Nathji has skipped a public Gval, Navnitlal skips a public Palana. Making a regal progress to ShriNathji's inner sanctum, the two Lords have a meal together before doing the Rajbhog darshan.
ShriNathji is surrounded by foliage, plantain, mango sprouts and various flowers. A veritable grove is set up in the inner sanctum, reflecting the grove set at the other end where Shri Navnitlal is swinging in a merriment. Infact, it is due to this "dol" (swing) that the main audience chamber of the Lord is called Dol-ti-bari - a window on to the divine world where the Lord's various pastimes, such as Dol, are glimpsed as jakhis by the devote.
The temple is currently very well supported by its devotes and several people pay for several Rajbhojs a day. But at a time when Rajbhoj was done on a rare occasion, the temple authorities had decided to pay for the expenses of four Rajbhogs on this very special day. To this day, the temple continues to pay for four Rajbhogs, on top of the ones paid for by the devotes on this day. At a time when the temple wages were paid for in food, the authorities had organised these extra Rajbhojs to pay for all the extra work and bonues to be distributed to the temple servants in the form of extra food at such festivals. At all major festivals, the temple servants work overtime and their reward is extra prasad, over and above their normal allocations.
Rabhog darshan opens to the public at around 1pm, much later than on normal days. Gulal and other festive colours are sprinkled on the Lord and the devotes at both ends of the temple/ haveli. The gulal is sprinkled with such force, that it often bellows out of the Dhruv bari in to the kamal chok. As at all busy times in the temple calendar, men and women are given separate darshans to avoid either gender feeling they are being rushed or crushed by the other. Alternate "kheva" of men / women are kept going until all the devotes have had a chance to see the twin Lords of Nathadwara. After about two - three hours, the darshans are held without the festive colour being thrown at the Lord or the devotees. Depending on the crowds, the darshan can last for up to 6 hours !
After such an exhausting day, the Lords take a short nap before holding the utthapan, bhog, snadhya and shayan darshans. The entire temple is cleaned with water before the utthapan and bhog darshans can take place. It is a major clean up operation, especially after 40 days of being covered in festive colours. All it's various rooms, halls and courtyards are lovingly cleaned by servants, workers hired especially for the day and volunteers. This mammoth task of cleaning up the massive haveli is a sight to be seen !
Having played with so much colour, Yashodaji bathes her boys and clothes them in a large quilted robe of red brocade, least her boys catch cold in the cool evening air. Some public darshans may be skipped in order to give the Lords time for rest and recuperation. Due to the busy schedhule, the Lord can sometimes go to bed at midnight ! It is one of the longest days in the life of a temple servant, especially those that work in the inner most sanctum. Temple servants would have woken up well before the Lord, and must now go to sleep well after the Lord has retired to His bed chamber.
The townsfolk start to play with colour soon after 8am. Children and young men are at it since mangala, but the majority of the town takes to the streets after a decent breakfast. All the shops in the town are closed till the afternoon and everyone descends on the main bazaar at the entrance to the Moti Mahal of the Tilakayat. In the days of yore, kings and their court used to play with their subjects in the Royal Courtyard. The Tilakayat has always been the uncrowned king of Nathadwara, and has maintained a lifestyle to match that status. The people of the town, even today, pay homage to the Tilakayat by coming and playing holi in front of his palace. Sadly, no one from the Tilakayat's family now joins in the fun. Tilakayat lives in Mumbai and if they are visiting Nathadwara for the festival, they are busy serving in the temple or playing with their friends in the Moti Mahal.
The streets in and around the bazaar soon become covered in the soft powder of abil and gulal. Within an hour or so, the festive colours form a thick, soft carpet of ashen purple colour. Thankfully, no one was using water when we were there in Nathadwara. On this day, no one who ventures out in the streets escapes without being covered in colour. Children run around the back streets, howling with delight as they spray unsuspecting pilgrims with colour. Now a days, a wide range of colours are available besides the traditional red and pink. Iridescent green, blue, purple, red, yellow etc are widely available in the bazaars of most Indian towns and cities.
Most towns folk stop playing holi by the time the temple servants being their own festival. Temple servants begin after the Rajbhog darshan has opened and the Lord has started playing with colour. They play in the various courtyards of the haveli, chasing each other down the narrow lanes and bylanes of the haveli.
Shops begin to open around 1.30pm and by 3pm the town has resumed business as usual. Being such a busy day, and with so many pilgrims to serve, the shops stay open till late.
Having had a very busy day, the Lord wakes up very late the day after Dhuleti. Typically, it can be as late as 7.30 - 8am !! To mark the auspiciousness of the day, the Lord wears a white brocade chakadar jama and a matching white brocade pichoie, with green and gold border, is hung in the background. He wears a golden crown and jewels cascade down to his feet. Usually, the day after any major festival is also considered sacred and typically, the Lord wears regal gear to celebrate the formal end to the festivities.
From other eyewitness accounts, in 1996, the Tilakayat organised a special picnic for the Lord during the festive season. On the agiyaras (11th day of the fortnight) preceeding the Dhuleti festival, Lord normally celebrates a special wedding feast in pseudo grove in the haveli. On this occasion, the Tilakayat decided to take the Lords of Nathadwara to Kachoi Baag, a garden on the outskirts of the town. It is one of 12 such gardens owned by the Lord in the vacinity of the town.
The main water canal of the garden was decorated and was set to represent Shri Yamunaji and a platform was created on the opposite bank to segregate the Lords from the huge crowds. When the darshans opened, so much abil and gulal was used that all trees and shrubs of the garden were veritably covered in the pink and white power. Eye-witnesses say that over 4 truck loads of gulal was used during the day ! It must have been a sight to see !! Fortunate are those to whom Shri Nathji grants such delights !!!
© Bhagwat Shah
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