La Belle Époque : My perfect Holi Celebration

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By  Indranil Halder

Holi celebration is part of Dol Utsav (Swing festival) in Bengali culture. It is also celebrated in Australia with family, friends and fun. In Sydney, I celebrated this great Indian tradition with a Western twist.

Art of Dol Utsav Celebration: 

To me, the art of Dol Utsav as a festival  in the Indian city of Kolkata has three parameters: opulence, spiritualism  and last but not the least is the social celebration of Holi. Kolkata as a city  has experienced its fair share of dark days with British partition, Maoist/Naxalite movement and Communist mentality but it still holds a charm of aristocratic, grandiose and opulence. With every visit, I enjoy the very essence of the city as Vibha Mitra from Calcutta Heritage Collective perfectly stated, “ The Italian marble floors which glistened once still have some sheen despite layers of grime and dust.

An army of household help to clean is an impossible dream. The chandeliers of Venetian glass hang forlornly in large halls. The beautiful canvases are translucent with years of neglect. Marble statues lurk in corners. The high ceilings need a bigger, more expensive air-conditioner. The beautiful teakwood furniture has no option for hanging suits and dresses. They store folded sarees, dhotis, kurtas with elan.”

In Kolkata, aristocratic families such as Shovabazar Rajbari still celebrates Vahnyutsava on the eve of  Dol Utsav with grandeur. Centred around Hindu belief. Involves goddess -Radha and god Krishna like rest of east and northern India during Dol Purnima(full moon). For last eight hundred years, Bengal landlord class  used to  organise the festival. Later on,  they did their best to uphold the socio-religious conduct of Bengali Hindus traditions.

Started right after the fall of Bengal’s independent Hindu dynasties. Dol Utsav celebration across North India was spread by devotional movement of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu of Bengal. According to  Kolkata based Halley Goswami ( his brainchild is Gouda : Invoking Classical Bengal) says, “ Back in the day of Banyotsav or Nyara Burning ( haystackburning), according to the ancient rules, the temple’s Thakur (Idol of God  Krishna)will go to the place of burning nyara. Special worship is offered. At the end, the sheep made of rice powder is set on fire in the little house made of hay until destroyed. Earlier real sheep was offered as sacrifice. It is a form of the very ancient Vedic Yagna(a ritual sacrifice with a specific objective).

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Dol or Swing celebration is held the very next day. As part of the celebration, an idol of Thakur  is covered with Abir color, while the idol is placed on a swing. After sunrise, special puja session is conducted with yagna. At last, after playing colour in the afternoon, the idol is given bath and the swing is finished. Celebration takes place with of song, playing with colours and music  while worship continues. This was the original form of “Dol Yatra” or Dol Journey. And on this occasion, idol from the temple goes out in a  palanquin, which is known as “yatra”.

Today, celebration continues  with Pad kirtan( devotional songs), Holi (Festival of Colours or the Festival of Love) played with coloured powder or ‘Abir’ and music too. Other than being a  grand spiritual celebration, it is also a joyful occasion for the community at large. And refreshing Holi drink like ‘Thandai’(made of  milk with almonds, cardamom, cashew nuts, watermelon and muskmelon seeds, fennel seeds and poppy seeds and bhang (is an edible preparation made from the leaves of the cannabis plant originating from the Indian subcontinent)) makes the celebration more fun.

My Australian celebration of Dol Utsav: 

As a cultural conglomerate in Australia,  I love  celebrating Dol Utsav. This year, I wore white  khadi Dhoti/Kurta for the celebration only to be admired by many across the globe. One such admirer Sweta Chakrabarty from India said on my recent Facebook post,” None can Carry Indian Dresses as, well as you can Indranil…Our Royal Brand Ambassador of India. No Praises are worth it…Salute.” In Dhoti/Kurta, I  visited the ISCON temple in North Sydney to enjoy chanting and ‘kirtan’ songs. It was amazing as the gathering happened after a deadly silence of two years due to pandemic.

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Next morning, it was ‘Abir Khala ‘ in my front yard. Unable to  make it to Parramatta’s  Holi celebration and street party. For Holi is a joyous celebration of music and drinks. Late in the afternoon, I attended the Mozart: Requiem & Revelations in the majestic heritage building of Sydney Town Hall.

It was a superb Symphony Chorus with amazing soloists and magnificent Sydney Philharmonia Orchestra. Followed by,  La Belle Époque (musical collaboration between philanthropic Moran family, Sydney Art Quartet  and Champagne Maison Perrier-Jouët) in an Australian private heritage ballroom (an interior unseen to the public) in a 60 million dollar ‘ Swifts’ Darling Point mansion with extraordinary display of late 19th century decorative arts.

Tasting exquisite Perrier-Jouët cuvées, I listened to James Beck (Artistic Director) from Sydney Art Quartet. It felt like, I am attending a ‘jalsa’ (a gathering for entertainment :concert ) as a wealthy early 20th century Bengali landlord like Biswambhar Roy (in Oscar award winning director Satyajit Ray’s movie ‘Jalsaghar’). Only change is the location. Instead of Indian Kolkata city, it is Sydney in Australia.

Even though it is summer in Down Under, it felt like magical spring. My friend Sonia Gandhi joined me as my guest for the celebration. She stated her experience as, “An incredibly cultural experience to be welcomed at the ‘Swifts’ Mansion, private residence. The largest remaining Victorian Gothic Revival mansion in Australia.

An Immersive performance by The Sydney Art Quartet that connected audiences with a layered, multi-sensory experience across live music woven with contrasting art forms paired with Champagne Perrier-Jouët for each performance. Thank you Indranil Halder for your innovative thought process of music and art and Holi celebration.”

My 2022  Holi celebration definitely was a memorable mosaic of opulence, colours and music with a touch of spiritualism.