Holi Festival: Surviving Banke Behari

As the streets narrow, squeezing the sweltering sunlight from the old stone walkways, a thousand hawkers plunge into the bottleneck alleyways surrounding the infamous Banke Bihari temple.

Transvestites touch, bless and flirt with passing men, as the enclosing buildings squash us together, whilst thick, purple mud - the ground's translation of the fragrant powder that colours the sky, squelches beneath our bare feet like rotten grapes, exhausted from over pressing.


Eventually, a doorway beckons, and in we pour, whether we choose to or not.

Shafts of speckled daylight greet us, swirling in a hundred spinning fans that painstakingly work to cool the humid air.

Wall to wall, filling the entire room, is an unfathomable ocean of swaying bodies and coloured air, peppered in a blistering celebration of old sins and new beginnings. Honest laughter and grateful embraces rub shoulders with hateful aggression and the angry, albeit  unknowing, physical expression of low pay, poor working conditions and sexual repression; leaving me unable to tell whether the stumbling, drunken man spraying water in my face is wearing a smile carved from glee, or mockery.

Men push and punch each other in a desperate attempt to edge forward just one or two extra steps, whilst others shove their hands down women's tops and grotesquely lick reluctant necks, all to the clang of verbal and physical protests that go either unheard or uncared for. Yet alongside this, old friends embrace, shake hands and wish one-another good luck for the year to come - a chance to start anew and wash away the sins of times gone by.


Eventually, a large curtain at the far end of the gigantic hall spreads its wings to reveal a huge, colourful statue. The sight of which, beckons the crowd to burst into an infectious frenzy of wild cheering, coupled with desperate need to push closer.

The tide quickens, as the pull of bodies flow towards the statue, hands raised in devoteful celebration. Tears of joy pour down the faces of overwhelmed worshippers, whilst overheating children wail atop their parents shoulders, and the old and the obese are swept to the ground and trodden on, as the swell rushes forward.


Luckily, we spot our escape - a thin tributary of the culturally-satisfied and exhausted worshippers. It trickles its way to the right and again, bottlenecks into a tight corridor, blessed with the promise of clean daylight, floating peacefully in the colourful air. We follow it. Thankful, as we once again, let the tide take us.

The swell of people pour down wet and muddy steps, causing more of the weak and frail to fall to their hands and knees, crumbling to the hard marble floor, only to wait for the onslaught of bare, muddy feet to plough over them.

And then we're outside. And the sunlight hits us. And the river of people fan out; fan passed the young men throwing paint in our faces. Passed the cheers and the wild celebrations. Passed the photographers, eager to capture the magic. And we pour into the delightful streets of Vrindravan. And then we're there.

All of us.

Exhausted. Relieved. And beating, wide eyed, with the electricity of life.