Boulily, my grandmother was a unique personality. Her real name was Urmila. Her sons addressed her as ‘bou lo’-dear mom. Bou lo turned into Boulily as a one year old (me) tried to emulate the elders. She was the matriach of our family. My grandfather loved her so much that he had allowed her every freedom to run the household as she wished. One of the earliest memories I have of her is, sitting outside the huge kitchen of our joint family, supervising all the activities of the day and keeping a hawk’s eye over the little ones while our moms worked in the kitchen. She had five sons and daughter-in-laws and plenty of grand children to keep her hands full. I was one of the naughtier ones, always getting into trouble. I must have been about a year and a half when I remember fluently reciting, with folded hands and eyes closed, one of her favorite hymns- ‘Jai Radhe Radhe, Krishna Krishna, Govinda Govinda bolo re’. My grandmother was in love with Krishna. Her mornings started with His prayers, her rituals involved taking a bath and going straight to the puja room where she spent the next hours singing, praising and decorating her beloved Sri Krishna. She called Him ‘ mo kanha’…or as I remember ‘ mo aanthua gopala’.
As a child I remember sitting or perhaps playing near the door of the puja room. She had strict rules, no one could enter the room without having a shower and no one was to touch Gopala (baby Krishna) until she had finished with her own puja rituals. So being a joint family with plenty to attend to, my mom would make me sit outside the door, where my grandmother could watch over me as well as do her puja. I remember her talking to ‘Gopala’ very lovingly as if speaking to a child, perhaps maybe even singing a lullaby. She would bathe Him in a tub of scented water, then wipe Him clean. She would then make a sandalwood paste and apply it all over the idol. She would decorate Him with ornamants and fineries, finally dressing Him up for the aarti. She placed a garland, that she specially made for Him each day, and then did the aarti and sang prayers, full of devotion.
Each year during Holi, all these memeories come rushing to my mind and take me down the memory lane, where I am still a child, living together in a big family with our grand parents, free from all worries. Festivals are the special days when my mom is very busy so that has allowed me to get into all sorts of mischief and get away with it. They mean sweets and delicacies. They stand for fun, happiness and represent the spirit of togetherness. And Holi still remains one such important festival which the family unites to celebrate.
The celebrations for Holi begins six days before the actual day. The festivities begin on Fhagu Dasami Day, in the month of Falgun (Feb-Mar) and conclude on Dola Purnima (full moon). After which Holi is celebrated with colors. During these six days Radha and Krishna are worshipped on a swing, decorated specially for this event. From the day of Fhagu Dasami, the idols of Krishna and Radha are carried on the swing, known as Vimana, and taken to all homes in the village (in cities as well) where they are offered ‘bhoga’ by each house hold. This is known as Dola Jatra. The processions are a delight to watch. Many people carry the Vimana and many follow it, with ‘Abeera’ (dry color powder) smeared on their face and body, singing and dancing to devotional music, as if in a trance. One can hear the sound of the bells, the gongs and the conch shells from afar, an indication that the procession is on its way. This procession usually comes in the evening.
My grandmother being a devotee of Krishna, meant that any festival associated with Him had special exuberance. On this day, under my grandmother’s supervision, the whole house was cleaned early in the morning. No meat or fish was to enter the kitchen. Plain vegetarian food, without onion and garlic, was cooked. Each one of us was expected to bathe and wear fresh clothes and to remain that way all day long. By the evening my mom and aunts would have completed preparing many sweets and savouries, waiting to be offered as bhoga. I remember not liking this custom specially because of the waiting period. The whole house would be full of appetizing smells since the morning but one could not even taste it untill the offering to Krishna had been made. This was another reason, that as a child, I eagerly waited for the procession to reach our doors (so that I could pounce on the snacks after the ritual was over) :p In return the deity blessed the household and gave us ‘abeera’ for the Holi. This daily processions of the idols of Radha and Krishna on a swing or the Vimana, continues for four days and is known as ‘chakeeri’. It concludes as festival known as Dolautsava.
On the night of Dolapurnima there is holipoda (burning of holi), which is symbolic of the burning of the demon Holika. The next day Holi is celebrated which stands for the victory of good over evil. Its a very happy experience for children and adults alike to play all day with colors and to abandon all stress and worry for the day.
Each year Holi brings back these childhood memories and even though I live far away from my family in India, I am glad that atleast I have these memories to cherish. I owe a huge part of this to my mother and grandmother. Though my Baulily is no more with us, but I have a small idol of Radha Krishna and a ‘Aanthua Gopala’ (kneeling baby krishna) at my altar and through me I believe her devotion and love for Him lives on. Happy Holi to all.
Author-Soumya Mania Ranjan
Photo source — Washington post