While the popular destination to enjoy the colours of holi is Braj, a small town in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh where it is believed that Lord Krishna grew up; the living palace at Udaipur opens its gates to witness a royal celebration.
Colours, Krishna-Radha raas (dance), balloons filled with coloured water, delicacies like gujhia and maalpua, bhang (cannabis) mixed with yoghurt, friends, fun and excitement are a few things most associated with the Indian festival Holi. It is one of the most awaited festivals among children and youth. While the elders perform the rituals and customs followed traditionally, the younger lot looks forward to the playful part. Every region has its own unique way of celebrating this festival. However, the mythology and colours bind them together.
A legend from Hindu mythology explains why holi is celebrated.It is said that long ago a king named Hiranyakashipu received a valuable boon after years of penance from Lord Brahma of being indestructible. Blinded with his power, he became arrogant and conjured himself as god and demanded to be worshipped. It enraged him when his own son, Prahlada, refused to obey upon which he subjected him to brutal punishments. Prahlada was deeply devoted to Lord Vishnu. When no punishment worked to move Prahlada from his righteous path, Hiranyakashipu turned towards his evil sister Holika for help. Holika tricked Prahlada to sit with her on pyre. While Holika covered herself in a shawl resistant to fire, Prahlada was left exposed to be burnt. With great faith, Prahlada continued his prayers to Lord Vishnu. Miraculously, as an answer to his prayers, Holika burnt down to ashes while he was left unscathed. The evening preceding holi, a bonfire is performed customarily to mark the victory of good over evil. This is called ‘Holika Dahan’. The word ‘Holi’ comes from ‘Holika’. Holi is thus celebrated to rejoice new beginnings and forgive and forget the past disagreements.
An interesting combination
A royal ‘Holika Dahan’ can be experienced in the City Palace of Udaipur where the descendent of former king himself sets the fire and performs all the rituals. It is an extravagant affair marking both the regal lineage and the prosperity. Occasionally the Holi celebration is combined with World Living Heritage Festival which is jointly organised by Maharana of Mewar Charitable Foundation (MMCF) and HRH Group of Hotels, the two entities of Eternal Mewar brand, every year. However, it is unfortunate that this combination is not witnessed every year.
City Palace in Udaipur is a living palace, as the former royal family still resides there. The 76th descendant of the Mewar Dynasty, Shreeji Arvind Singh Mewar, , decided to protect the heritage left behind by his ancestors and to continue the customs and traditions the way the Palace had always witnessed. He has successfully, through his vision and inherited assets, presented to the world the life inside the palace through a number of galleries. These galleries not only reveal the stories of the past but also keep them protected. It is often joked that every locked storeroom in the palace has the substance capacity to conceive a new gallery. World Living Heritage Festival was envisaged as a part of this vision to attract world’s attention to the importance and safeguard of the living heritage.
Three of the four days of World Living Heritage Festival are dotted with exhibitions from various local artists/craft based organisation; World Living Heritage Conference during the day and performances by esteemed artists from different parts of India during the evenings. The conference gives an opportunity to get heritage and community conservationists, policy makers, city citizens, and the custodian himself to o celebrate heritage and discuss threats and future action plans together.
The entire palace is decorated to boast of its existing beauty and wealth. It is made sure that every guest feels like a part of this royal inheritance for these four days. The venue of the conference, Sabhagaar Conference Hall at Fateh Prakash Palace Convention Centre gives the impression of witnessing the royal court itself while the feasts at lunch lets you ‘have lunch like the prince’! The presence of royal family adds to this experience.
Exploration in City Palace Complex becomes much easier if you belong to any consulting organisation. Sections not accessible to general public would lead you to discover untouched rooms, corridors and terraces. One such place discovered in an unguided tour was a perfect sunset point at one of the terraces with a view of the Lake Pichola, the Lake Palace, the mountains and sunset all at once. One of these millions terraces also stages musical concert on one of the mornings at 5:30. The notes and the ragas and the view enhances the beauty of the sunrise. This sunrise is certainly worth waking up for.
The evenings are made beautiful with artists, called from all over India, performing with the Palace at the backdrop. Each chhatri and every jharokha is lighted well to give justice to the architecture of this 450 years old edifice. These performances become more special with the constant applause and appreciation from Arvind Singh Mewar. People, however, at times seem more interested in having a glance of the royal family than the performances.
The royal Holika Dahan
The last day, the day of Holika Dahan, is more exquisite than the cumulative experience of the preceding three days of the festival. Manek Chowk, where the ceremony takes place, bustles with the preparations for the event. A huge pile of hay is placed in the centre for bonfire. At one edge sit the priests and the custodian with royal guards at the background. Everyone is impeccably dressed in white with red turbans and waistbands, while the custodian in his traditional attire. After the rituals and the prayers, there begins a royal procession led by the Arvind Singh Mewar, followed by his son and troop in circle. The mound is then set on fire after which the two royal descendants take blessings from the priests. The scale of the ceremony is surreal and theatrical. The performances that follow bring you back to your toes.
Being at the City Palace Complex during this festival does not only let one experience the royal ‘Holika Dahan’ but also gives an insight towards the concept of living heritage. It is a rare combination of intellectual discussions and cultural buzz hosted by the royal family in their own abode. It also gives an opportunity to witness City Palace at its best. This royal experience may have a price but well worth it. To experience a beautiful snippet of royal mewar, this festival is a must!