Saints, seers, and other devotees of Lord Shiva flocked to the Harishchandra Ghat in Varanasi on Friday to take part in one of the most peculiar traditions of playing Holi with the ashes and remains of the pyre, turning what is traditionally a somber occasion into a riotous celebration.
Masan Holi is held on Rangbhari Ekadashi to celebrate the arrival of spring. This ritual, which is part of an age-old tradition and may be as old as the city of Kashi itself, marks the beginning of the Holi celebrations in the holy city of Uttar Pradesh five days in advance.
The devotees of the Aghor Peeth Baba Keenaram Ashram kicked off the celebrations for this year’s Masan Holi with a Shobha Yatra, which was a spectacular way to kick off the festivities. More than 50,000 people took part in the parade, the vast majority of whom were dressed as devotees of the Hindu god Shiva. The parade was attended by more than 50,000 people in total. At three in the afternoon, the nearly five-kilometer-long procession that had begun in Raja Harishchandra Ghat and continued through Sonarpura and Bhelupura came to an end.
At Raja Harishchandra Ghat, a completely different scene was observed, in which Holi revelers were seen drenched to the skin while standing in the midst of burning pyres. Masan Holi is something that enticed Mohit Shukla, a native of Kolkata who is originally from Varanasi, to travel all the way to Varanasi in order to experience it. As strange as it may be.
Harishchandra Ghat organizer Pawan Chowdhary claims that there are other types of Holi celebrations, such as the Barsana Holi and the Lathmar Holi, but that Kashi’s Masan Holi is the most unusual.
People from all walks of life, not just saints, seers, and sadhvis, gather at the cremation ground amid the burning pyres to take part in an ancient ritual celebrating death in the pursuit of salvation (moksha), he said.
The Dom Community
Chowdhary, a member of the Dom community, assures us that the celebration of Holi remains true to its origins. According to him, on the Hindu festival of Mahashivratri, Lord Shiva married the goddess Parvati and then spent some time at Parvati’s childhood home. Two weeks after their wedding, on the festival of Rangbhari Ekadashi, Lord Shiva was said to have brought his new bride to Kashi for the first time.
It is said that Lord Shiva’s devotees celebrated the arrival of Goddess Parvati at the Kashi Vishwanath temple, but that the Lord himself came to the cremation ground to play Holi with them using ashes because his ethereal followers had no opportunity to play with colors.
Masan Holi is also observed at Manikarnika Ghat, which is notable for being the largest cremation ground in the world. As Gulshan, the organizer of Masan Holi at Manikarnika Ghat, explained, “at Manikarnika Ghat, Masan Holi is observed a day after Rangbhari Ekadashi (on Saturday).
Once upon a time, only holy men and women would participate in Masan Holi. However, approximately 29 years ago, a few organizations took the initiative to organize celebrations, which led to the custom’s meteoric rise in popularity.
According to representatives of the state’s tourism department, Masan Holi is also popular with tourists from other countries. “The Masan Holi festival is without a doubt one of the most popular tourist destinations in this part of Kashi. According to Preeti Srivastava, the deputy director of Varanasi tourism for the UP tourism department, “It not only attracts domestic tourists but also foreign tourists as they want to be a part of this unique tradition that is observed only in Kashi.”