IN A VIOLENCE OF COLOR, Lathmar Holi is a particular Holi celebration with a pretty unique twist: as part of the celebration, the women chase — and beat — the men with long sticks.

Check out these images by Matador’s Creative Director, Scott Sporleder, who had a chance to visit, and discover the history and stories behind Lathmar, a few years back.


Holi itself is notoriously rowdy with color and movement and chaos. It's known as the festival of colors, an ancient festival that celebrates the arrival of spring, is a day to rid oneself of past mistakes or conflicts, and for the religious it honors the legend of Holika. For everyone involved, it is a deeply colorful affair, which is also full of dancing, singing, eating, drinking, and taking to the streets.


Legend has it that Lord Krishna — who is said to have come from the Nandgaon village — would travel to his beloved's town, Barsana, to visit her but also to tease her and her friends. The legend continues to say that Krisha's love, Radha, and her friends responded to this teasing by driving him out of Barsana together. Lathmar Holi, then, in a recreation of this event and legend: the men from Nandgaon come and tease the women of Barsana, who in return chase and beat the men with long sticks, called lathis. In this image you can see the men gather without women to dance and celebrate before the women come looking for them.


As the celebration takes to the streets, it looks like regular Holi. Colored powder is cast, thrown, toss, sprayed, and marked on one another's faces as people gather in the open.


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The streets fill up as the event approaches. To the left you can see the women coming with their long sticks and faces covered to capture, beat, and chase the men away. Those not directly participating line the sidewalks, the roofs, the windows of buildings to get a good view of the action.


The women arrive, charged up and ready to have their moment. It's said that the men from Nangdaon hurl "teases" at them — or sing teasing songs — that are actually quite provocative and even sexual — not common for the culture. It's meant to stir the women up into a sort of frenzy. Since the men can get quite graphic, marriage is actually not allowed between these two towns, in case a man accidentally insults his future wife, mother in law, or another female family member.


The beatings begin. The men who have been "captured" are struck with the long lathis while the public watches, cheers, and goads them along.


Since this is a re-enactment, the men come prepared with strong shields to block the beatings.


The women of Barsana begin preparing for this event up to a month in advance, their mothers and mothers-in-law feeding them extra rich foods so they'll have great strength in front of the crowds. While it involves men teasing and women responding with a bit of violence, the heart of the event is one of love, good humour, and even a touch of equality.


As all this is taking place, it's still the season of Holi, and amidst the back-and-forth between the men and women, color is still is central part of the ceremony and events.


It's a bit unusual, unique, and unexpected for what outsiders tend to think of about India, and yet it's been going on for centuries and there's no signs it's stopping anytime soon. A battle of the sexes, drenched in color, in Uttar Pradesh.

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