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THE FESTIVAL OF SPRING. Kangra, c. 1780 Victoria and Albert Museum
THE FESTIVAL OF SPRING


Radha and Krishna are celebrating the Holi Festival, termed by O. C. Gangoly 'the Indian Saturnalia of ‘Spring'. The ritual is performed in the early part of the hot weather when the rising heat and flowering trees induce a general mood of romantic exhilaration. During the day, men and boys take bamboo syringes, squirting all-comers with red or saffron-coloured water and flinging over them handfuls of red or yellow powder. At night, huge bonfires are lit. The picture which shows Radha and her friends calmly accepting the onslaughts of Krishna testifies yet again to the power of Kangra painting to imbue what are basically sexual situations with tenderness and nobility. A Hindi poem, quoted by Gangoly, describes how 'The syringes in their happy flow augment the passion of love like continued showers in the season of rain' and indeed the whole ritual could be described as a ballet on the act of love - the bowls and drums sustaining the feminine role and the bamboo instruments the male. So natural, however, is the whole setting and so innocently inserted are the particular symbols that 'it is not difficult to overlook to what extent these poems and pictures are frankly amorous'.