Not Holi, In Bengal We Have ‘Dol’: Here’s What You Need To Know

From the legend of Krishna to Basant Utsav – all you need to know about Bengal’s Dol Yatra.

Updated
India
5 min read
While the rest of the country celebrates Holi, Bengal celebrates Dol Yatra.
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It’s that time of the year again, when for an entire day (or more in some parts of the country) you can legit walk around with outrageous colours on your face and no one is going to bat an eyelid.

While “Bura na mano Holi hai” has been the rallying cry for shops screaming discounts and men who think this is the perfect time to “legitimately” harass women (*eyeroll*), in some places, like Bengal, Assam and Tripura, for example, the festival isn’t called Holi. It’s called “Dol Yatra” or “Dol Purnima”, popularly shortened to just “Dol”.

Now Dol is usually celebrated a day before Holi in these parts of the country. No, it’s not because “What Bengal thinks today, the world thinks tomorrow”. Please to keep parochial snobbery in check. But mostly because the legends around both these festivals – Holi and Dol – are quite different.

Too caught up to read the whole story? Listen to it here:

The Legends of Krishna & Prahlad

Holi is based on the legend of Prahlad, while Dol revolves around Krishna and Radha; both Krishna and Prahlad, incidentally, are considered to be incarnations of Lord Vishnu.

The legend of Dol begins the day after a full-moon night in the Bengali month of Phalgun, when delectable mangoes and the asoka tree were in full bloom; when the landscape of the Vrindavan was a bright scarlet, courtesy the plumes of the palash tree.

The legend of Dol begins on a day when the landscape of the Vrindavan was a bright scarlet, courtesy the plumes of the palash tree.
The legend of Dol begins on a day when the landscape of the Vrindavan was a bright scarlet, courtesy the plumes of the palash tree.
(Photo Courtesy: hearty-india.com)

On that day, while Radha and her sakhis were playing around a swing, Lord Krishna smeared her face with “Phag” or powdered colours. (This is believed to be the first time that Krishna expressed his love for Radha.) The two were then carried in a colourful palanquin around the city to celebrate the moment.

“Dol” means swing and “Yatra” means journey. Hence the name of the festival. It is also the last festival in the Bengali calendar.

Vaishnava folklore is  rich with depictions of Krishna and Radha on a swing.
Vaishnava folklore is rich with depictions of Krishna and Radha on a swing.
(Image: Gaudiya Mission/Cartoonize)

Compare this to the Holi legend, centered around Holika and her nephew Prahlad, the devout son of demon king Hirannakashipu.

The legend of Holi is based on the legend of demon king Hirannakashipu, his devout son Prahlad, and his sister Holika – who jumped into a fire with her nephew.
The legend of Holi is based on the legend of demon king Hirannakashipu, his devout son Prahlad, and his sister Holika – who jumped into a fire with her nephew.
(Photo Courtesy: Feminism In India)

To kill Prahlad, Holika – who had supernatural powers – hatched a plan to jump into a fire with him. She wanted to use her powers to save herself, while Prahlad was supposed to perish. However, Holika’s powers failed because of her “evil” intentions and she burnt to death, while Prahlad came out unscathed. Holi, therefore, celebrates the triumph of good over evil, while Dol celebrates the power of love.

Basanta Utsav: Celebrating The Advent of Spring

Unlike in other parts of India, where the celebration of Holi is deeply rooted in mythology, Dol in Bengal is also about the celebration of the spring season – the last season in the Bengali year and also the beginning of the harvest season. An economy based on rabi crops, spring has always been the season of “gain” in eastern India and is therefore celebrated with vigour.

Basanta Utsav at Visva Bharati.
Basanta Utsav at Visva Bharati.
(Image: iStock)

The tradition of Basant Utsav was started by Rabindranath Tagore at the Visva Bharati University in Santiniketan. Colours were made from the differently coloured flowers by students and teachers in what has since evolved as one of the largest Holi celebrations in the country.

Holi is celebrated by tribal communities in many parts of Bengal.
Holi is celebrated by tribal communities in many parts of Bengal.
(Photo: Outlook)

Dol in these parts is, thus, not just a religious festival, but also a festival of nature which is celebrated with gusto – even by the non-Hindu tribal communities of the state.

Rabindra Sangeet & Baul Music – the Different Forms of Celebration

In many parts of Bengal, Dol is still celebrated by placing idols of Krishna and Radha in ornately decorated palanquins and carrying them around town. Some people take turns to swing the palanquin, while everyone else sings and dances around it. There’s, of course, a lot of abir (powdered colour) that is played with.

In many parts of Bengal devotees carry decorated palanquins with the idols of Krishna and Radha around town.
In many parts of Bengal devotees carry decorated palanquins with the idols of Krishna and Radha around town.
(Photo: The Telegraph)

In Santiniketan’s Visva Bharati, the Basanta Utsav has now expanded to attract thousands of people each year. The onset of the season of colours is celebrated with equally colourful music, dance and a lot of safe colour-smearing. Liquid colours are not allowed at the Basanta Utsav.

Students and professors dress up in yellow for the occasion of Basant Utsav in Santiniketan.
Students and professors dress up in yellow for the occasion of Basant Utsav in Santiniketan.
(Photo: www.sayonkumarsaha.com)

Students and professors, decked in yellow and with ornaments made of the local shimul flower, take to the streets in a customary procession called the prabhat pheri. This is a followed by a huge cultural programme complete with Rabindra Sangeet, Baul music and lots of striking dance and poetry performances.

Tribal dance forms are performed in various parts of Bengal on the day of Dol Yatra.
Tribal dance forms are performed in various parts of Bengal on the day of Dol Yatra.
(Photo: The Beacon Kolkata)

In the Purulia district of West Bengal, folk dance forms find their place in Dol celebration at a three-day annual festival. Dance forms like Chhauu, Darbari, Natua and Jhumur find their place at this festival, as do songs by the state’s bhoboghure (wandering) bauls.

The festival is organised by the villagers in the district as a form of sustaining themselves and their culture.

Bengal celebrates Dol on 1 March 2018 this year. Happy Dol to you!

(Hey there, lady! What makes you laugh? Do you laugh at sexism, patriarchy, and misogyny? Do 'sanskaari' stereotypes crack you up? This Women's Day, join The Quint's Ab Laugh Naari campaign. Pick up that beer, say cheers, and send us photographs or videos of you laughing out loud at buriladki@thequint.com.)

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