Dol Jatra—the festival of colours—is predominantly celebrated in the states of West Bengal, Odisha, and Assam with much love and enthusiasm. Dol Jatra or Dol Purnima is celebrated on a full moon day and is dedicated to Lord Krishna and Shrimati Radharani. The day also marks the last festival of the year as per the Bengali calendar. In 2021, Dol Jatra is celebrated on the 28th of March.
The festival is also known ‘Dol Purnima’ or the ‘Swing Festival’. The festival is celebrated in a dignified manner by placing the idols of Krishna and Radha on a picturesquely decorated palanquin which is then taken round the main streets of the city. The devotees take turns to swing them while women dance around the swing and sing devotional songs. Throughout the procession men keep spraying coloured water and colour powder, ‘abir’ at them.
According to the myth, on this day, Lord Krishna expressed his affection for Radha. Hence, people celebrate the reunion of Krishna and Radha by parading their decorated idols in a swinging palanquin. Coloured powder or “Abir” (as it’s known in Bengal, Assam, and Bihar) is smeared on the idols of Krishna and Radha while the chants of “Hari Bol” keep the procession lively.
In Vrindavan and Mathura, where Lord Krishna grew up, the festival is celebrated for 16 days (until Rangpanchmi) in commemoration of the divine love of Radha for Krishna. Lord Krishna is believed to have popularized the festival by playing pranks on the gopis here. Krishna is believed to have complained to his mother about the contrast between his dark skin complexion and Radha’s fair skin complexion. Krishna’s mother decided to apply colour to Radha’s face. The celebrations officially usher in spring, the celebrated season of love.
How is Dol celebrated?
Milk items are prepared, including home-made butter, cream, malpua and panchamrit, and are offered to people belonging to every class of the society. For Bengalis, the festival is all the more important because it marks the birthday of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu—the popular and revered Vaishnavi Saint who brought modern “sankartina” to Bengal and Odisha. His kirtan, which is still popular even in the 21st century praised Hari (as Mahaprabhu called Krishna) as a loving remembrance.
The first day of Dol Jatra is known as “gondh”. As per mythological texts, on this day, Lord Krishna prepares to visit Ghunucha’s place (one of the wives of Krishna). Devotees indulge in a bonfire in front of the “kirtan ghar” or prayer house. The idol of Krishna is then carried around the bonfire. Customary rituals are performed in the prayer house.
The second day is known asBhor-Deul or Dol. It’s similar to Holi where people indulge in smearing colours on each other. Throwing water balloons, smearing Abir”, or using “pichkaris” to spray coloured water is common. However, this day is best known for championing the spirit of unity. Though it’s predominantly a Hindu festival, people belonging from other religions too can participate in Dol. Sweets, especially Rasgullas are prepared in most households. Visiting relatives’ or friends’ house is a customary tradition that’s followed on this day. The younger lot pay respect to the elders by placing a pinch of “abir” or coloured powder in front of their feet. In return, elders bless them with prosperity and happiness.
The third day of Dol Jatra is similar to that of the second day. The fourth day of Dol is called Sueri. It’s believed that on this day Lord Krishna goes back to his house from Ghunucha’s place. A procession marking the return of Lord Krishna is arranged with hundreds of devotees participating in what amrks the end of the festival. People throw coloured powders on one another s celebrations galore.
The festival is seen as a symbol of unity and happiness. Celebrated in the eastern and north-eastern states of India, Dol Jatra remains as a popular festival among Bengalis. In rest of the India it is celebrated as Holi.