Pushti Marg developed in the serene surroundings of the groves and woods of Vraj. Centred around the Mount Govardhan and Gokul, the sect assimilated the local culture and ideas. Vraj, childhood haunt of Lord Krshna, is home to a number of colourful and joyous festivals. One of the most colourful ideas it adopted was the festival of Holi.
Shri Gusaiji, son of the founder of the sect, Shri MahaPrabhu Vallabhacharyaji, set out an elaborate system of Rag Bhog and Shringar to worship the Lord. As a part and extension to these ideas, the festivities and celebrations for Holi were spread out over six weeks. From Vasant Panchami, the official beginning of spring, till Falgun Purnima, the havelies of Pushti marg celebrate the colourful aspects of the spring festival. The day after Holi, Dhuleti, is the actual festival of colours. Everything in sight is covered in various shades of pink, black, white, orange and red.
Songs, celebrating the exploits of the gopies and Krshna, are sung in classical and folk melodies. Fast beats of the drum and "Dol" (musical instrument used specifically for the festive season) play out the rural / folk melodies of Vraj. Hori, dhamar and rasia are sung in the haveli for the next 40 days. Songs sung during this season usually recount how the exasperated gopies (milk maids), took their sweet revenge on Krshna and his friends. Tired of being teased and harassed by Krshna and his friends, the gopies decided to retaliate by pelting the young men of Vraj with cow-dung, mud, dyes made out of local flowers, vermilion powder etc. If an unfortunate young man happened to be caught by the gopies, he was be forcefully dressed in female attire and made to dance amidst them. Needless to say, Krshna survived several close calls, and made fools of the gopies on a number of occasions. Not to be outdone, the gopies gave as good as they got, and the stories of their
Vasanta Panchami marks the beginning of this season of "khel" festivities. Fresh flowers, sprouts and young shoots of trees and shrubs are bought in to the haveli to celebrate the renewal of nature. Originally, this was also celebrated as Madan Panchami, dedicated to the God of Love. Hence, songs of love between the Lord and his beloved gopies also feature heavily during this season. As of this day, the mukhiyajis (priests) of the Pushti havelies start to sprinkle colour in the inner sanctum and on the Lord. Usually this takes place during the Rajbhog darshan. At first, only a little colour is used. After the inner sanctum has been sufficiently made festive, the priest sprinkles a little colour on the devottees who have come to the haveli. For the first few days, this is a gentle exercise and devottees generally get only a speckle or two of colour on their clothes. Soon, however, the tempo builds up. As the week(s) progress, more and more colour is used to entertain the Lord. More and more colour finds it's way on to people's clothes and soon enough, a trip to the haveli during Gval means having to come home, bathe and change your clothes!
Key aspects of Khel :-
* 40 days of "Khel" are split into 4 equal segments of 10 days. Each 10 day segment is presided by different "yuth" of swaminijis.
* For the 40 days, mukhiyaji places a cloth to cover the feet of Thakorji during Khel. The bhava behind this ritual detail is that looking at Thakorji's feet induces dasa-bhav. To play khel, vaishnavs need to cultivate sakha / sakhi / khandita / manini / swamini bhava !
* Khel bhog is kept next to Thakorji through anosar period between Rajbhog and Utthapan so that he can eat and play with colours during the afternoon.
* Dhamar and rasiya are sung during the Khel season.
* Resplendent in white, Lord ShriNathji's dress is coloured anew each day by the skilful artistry of the mukhiyajis.
* During khel, Thakorji wears jewellery mainly made of gold and enamel.
* On the last day of Khel, during Dolottsav, 4-khels are celebrated as a culmination of the festivities on behalf of the four yuths of gopijans.
During this season, the Lord wears mainly white clothes. During the rajbhog darshan, all surrounding furniture and bolsters are also covered in white cloth. If possible, a white pichoi is set up specially for the darshan. The mukhiyaji uses miniature silver and gold syringes to spray the Lord with colour. Special techniques are used to create interesting designs with colours on the clothes and surroundings. For example, saffron, gulal, vermilion etc are used to create multi coloured birds on the white pichoi of the inner sanctum. "Kasudo" is sprinkeled in such a way on the pichoi, so as to resemble orange clouds, about to burst forth over the Lord and rain saffron coloured rain over his white clothes!
Interesting designs of stripes and tie-dye are also recreated by skilful use of the colour powders at hand. Mukhiyaji fills a cotton scarf with a few handful of the powder and flick it in such a way, so as to cover everyone in the haveli with colour. Clouds of pink and white bellow forth from the inner sanctum, as the mukhiyaji draws the devottees into the eternal play of the Lord. An experienced mukhiyaji can completely cover a devotee sitting over 100yrds away from him with colour powder! Syringes, filled with scented coloured water, give greater reach, but being liquid, they generally cover less people.
In keeping with the regal traditions of the haveli, they use charcoal made out of sandalwood, finely powdered abil and gugal powder, kumkum (vermilion), saffron coloured water and semi-permanent dye made out of the kasuda flowers. Various sweet scented attars (natural flower oils) are also used to recreate the atmosphere of the Lord playing with colours in the bowers and groves of Vrindavan. Gold and silver vessels are used to hold the colours and syringes encrusted with precious gems are used by Shri Nathji to drench the gopies in saffron colour..
In the havelies of BalaKrshnaji and Navnit-Priyaji, forms of the Lord as a baby, the gugal is sprinkeled during the Palana darshan. Shri Nathji and others normally celebrate the festivities during Rajbhog darshan. Depending on the tradition followed at a particular haveli, and special festivals they might be celebrating, the Lord can also play with colours during other darshan(s).
Festival of Holi celebrates the death of the demoness Holika.
The next day is celebrated as Dhuleti or Dolottsav. This is the "festival of colour" proper. The Lord wakes up early and starts to play with colours almost immediately. All darshans up to and including Rajbhog are celebrated by showering the devottees with plenty of colour powder and dyes. During the Rajbhog darshan, plantain, cypresses and mangoes branches are skilfully arranged around the chamber to resemble a grove. A swing, covered with fresh flowers and greenery, is set in the central arch of the "tibari" (main darshan chamber). The Lord swings happily while the skilful singers and musicians of his divine court recount the lilas of the Lord, as seen by such poet saints as Surdas, Nandadas, Kumbhandas etc.
All the walls and arches of the haveli are dripping with coloured water. Devottees are soaked to their skin. A multi coloured slush of various powders and colours covers the various courtyards of the Lord. Such is the joy of Dol !! It is celebrated with great gusto in every haveli of Pushti Marg.
A few days later, the Lord plays faag with flowers and petals of varied hues to remind Himself of the joys of "Khel" !!