Festive revelries features of past

Damper on Holi

Holi is a time for abandon, for discarding artificial barriers and class differences. But of late, the festival of colours has seen no coming together of people from all walks of life.

“Years ago, people in Agra used to organise maha moorkh sammelans (fools’ gatherings), where people from across the city would attend, caste and creed no bar. Some of them were awarded the title of moorkhata (foolishness),” says Agra-based culture critic Mahesh Dhakar.

“The tradition was practiced in Belanganj in Agra for years,” adds Dhakar.
But times have changed, says Shishir Bhagat, owner of 250-year-old Bhagat Halwai in Belanganj.

“People used to care about one another on Holi in those days. Nobody reacted sharply to Holi frivolities then,” he says. “Groups of street urchins would pester pedestrians to collect small donations for the final day celebrations. But now the festival has lost its original flavour.”

He says playing Holi has become an “indoor club activity”. “There is no more mixing with the masses,” he says.

He blames this to changing lifestyles and values.

“Earlier, it used to be impossible to move out of your house because people would throw water at you or even demand small festive donations. We have gradually become urbane and civil, though people in rural areas continue to engage in full-throated singing and dancing on Holi,” says Surendra Sharma, president of Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation Society.

Liquor has also replaced the traditional thandai and bhang. “Even the mela hosted by the municipal corporation has turned into a detestable demonstration of caste loyalties. Panchayats of different castes set up their stalls at places where the maximum number of people from their village interact, making strangers feel uninvited,” says social activist Sudhir Gupta.

“The finer aspects of Holi revelries are all features of the past,” adds Gupta. Increasing cost of living has also made families to limit the celebrations to just a few hours on Holi, says homemaker Padmini.  In Mathura and Vrindavan, celebrations are now confined to temples. “The fervour rarely spills over to the streets. It may be an invitation for trouble if someone smears gulaal on strangers,” says Bihari Sharma, a resident of Vrindavan Kunj.

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