Holi - Bengal decks up to welcome Holi in true festive spirit

Malpoa (Bengali Sweets)

Kolkata March 8, 2012 (Washington Bangla Radio/Penning Creations) It is that time of the year again when we finish putting the woolens back in the wardrobe and begin to smell the fresh air and enjoy the fragrance of the flowers blooming in the early morning. Spring seems to have hit the Indian subcontinent bringing along with it one of the highly awaited festivals on every Indian’s calendar. Come March 8th, a sense of abandoned eccentricity and vitality will fill the air as people across the country will be found immersing themselves in bright colours in the festival of Holi.

The Penning Creations team celebrate holi in Kolkata
The Penning Creations team celebrate holi in Kolkata

And when it comes to Holi, Bengal does not lag far behind in celebrating the festival in its own style. The very essence of Holi – the beginning of the harvest season is rooted in the cultural fabric of Bengal. Holi is known in the state by various names such as ‘Dol Jatra’ and ‘Dol Purnima’ and it arrives on the auspicious day of Purnima in the Bengali calendar. Being the last festival before the Bengali New Year, Dol Jatra offers a plethora of opportunities for fun and frolic on the streets.

The people of Bengal have always welcomed the festival as it marks the start of the harvest season. Waking up in the wee hours of the day, the people come together to have a dose of merriment by sprinkling ‘abir’ and ‘gulal’ on each other and loading up the ‘pichkaris’ with colored water to spray on each other. It is a day when all social inhibitions and barriers are broken and people are allowed to indulge in all kinds of unadulterated merriment. After the play with colours, comes the round of sweets. The sweet factor cannot be separated from the heritage of Bengal at any cost and therefore has a great role to play in the festivities. This is a time when all households indulge in the making of the traditional Bengali sweet known as ‘Malpoa’ – a delicacy made out of milk, sugar, flour and assorted nuts and dry fruits. ‘Dol Jatra’ is also often associated with a reveler spirit which is introduced with the drinking of ‘bhang’ especially in areas that are inhabited by people from North India. ‘Bhang’ is an intoxicant drink, mixed with milk and flavored by a little marijuana, which elevates the mood of merriment and keeps the spirits high. After a round of festivities in the morning, people go back to their houses to come back in the evening to engage in religious festivities. ‘Dol Jatra’ is often associated with the immortal love of Lord Krishna and Radha as the former is believed to have played numerous pranks in his childhood, one of them being throwing colored water on his lady friends. Thus during the festival, the idols of Lord Krishna and Radha are carried around in the streets, especially in the city of Kolkata, on decorated palanquins with people singing devotional songs and praising the Lord on the way.

Another festival associated with the festival of Holi in Bengal is the ‘Vasant Utsav’, celebrated in Shantiniketan, the university founded by Bengal’s own bard Shri Rabindranath Tagore. A large number of foreign visitors also come down for the festival at the University premises where students engage in religious fervor by sprinkling colored powder on each other and dancing to the rhythm of the drums. Festivities continue late into the night and the students cherish such moments throughout their life.

When it comes to the city of Kolkata, the trends of Holi are on constant change. People, realizing the harmful effects of playing with chemical colors, are moving on to organic and natural colors such as ‘haldi’ and powdered leaves of ‘gulmohar’ to give a green tint. Flower extracted powders are also available in the markets in order to become eco-friendly. On a traditional Holi day, the streets of Kolkata can be seen drowned with people in the natural colors, thus sparking feelings of brotherhood, unity and fraternity.

Holi has always been attached very closely with the cultural handiwork of Bengal and it will continue to do so for the years to come. Come the 8th of March, festivities will go full scale in the state and there will indeed be no stopping it. !!