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A Celebration in Northeast India

The Doul Utsav (Holi) festival in Assam is a vigorous affair.

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A Celebration in Northeast India

Intoxicated with devotion or alcohol, rowdy men escort the statue of Lord Krishna.

Credit: Marc Ressang
A Celebration in Northeast India

Musical groups walk the streets of Barpeta to mark the first day of Doul Utsav.

Credit: Marc Ressang
A Celebration in Northeast India

Men cling onto the statue of Krishna while they make their rounds around the bonfire.

Credit: Marc Ressang
A Celebration in Northeast India

A bonfire is held in front of the temple to symbolize the killing of the demon Mahisasur.

Credit: Marc Ressang
A Celebration in Northeast India

The days in between the first and last are used to allow pilgrims and villagers to get their blessings at the temple while musical troupes perform Assamese songs on the temple grounds.

Credit: Marc Ressang
A Celebration in Northeast India

A temple priest rests after a day of applying tilakas, a mark of colored powder, to the forehead of devotees.

Credit: Marc Ressang
A Celebration in Northeast India

The final day is spent singing Holi geets (traditional songs) and playing around with colored powder.

Credit: Marc Ressang
A Celebration in Northeast India

Hordes of men try to move the three idols around the temple grounds seven times before being returned to their original seats.

Credit: Marc Ressang
A Celebration in Northeast India

Devotees make their way around the temple grounds with the statues.

Credit: Marc Ressang
A Celebration in Northeast India

The thrones and idols are blessed with colored powder and coin money throughout their tour.

Credit: Marc Ressang
A Celebration in Northeast India

Part of the ceremony is for people to obstruct the way around the temple in a playful manner.

Credit: Marc Ressang
A Celebration in Northeast India

Devotees rest and pray at the temple after completion of the ceremony.

Credit: Marc Ressang

For many, Holi is undoubtedly one of the most recognizable and visual festivals in the world. Although most associate it with throwing lots of colored powder in the air, its rituals are filled with symbolism. While the main subject of celebration is the victory of good over evil, every region in India has its own version of these enthralling spring festival celebrations. One region makes human pyramids to steal pots of buttermilk while another has women playfully beating up their men.

In the heart of India’s long-neglected Northeastern states, the town of Barpeta is the center of Neo-Vaishnavism in India. Their take on Holi is called Doul Utsav.

For three or five days, according to astronomical alignments, the statues of Kaila Thakur (Lord Krishna) and Rukmini (Lakshmi) are taken out of their seats and displayed to the public. Thousands of Hindus from across the state travel to pray and receive their blessings. These days are a time for celebration and gathering with loved ones.

On Barpeta’s final day of Holi, only a few days after it is celebrated in other parts of the country, traditional Holi is combined with local traditions. Men and women join to perform Assamese “holigeets,” songs praising Lord Krishna. The statues are paraded around town and swarmed by men, a rambunctious horde fighting to be closest to the gods. When the statues are returned to the temple grounds, they are first taken around the temple seven times while obstructed by disciples of the goddess Lakshmi. After returning to their original seats, Doul Utsav is complete.