Holi is an ancient Hindu festival that is also one of the most joyful and colorful festivals of India. It has been celebrated in the Indian subcontinent for centuries. This can be validated with a few ancient poems of around the 4th century C.E. which mention the celebration of Holi. This festival is also known as the festival of colors. Although this religious and cultural festival falls once a year, it is celebrated twice in Kanpur, a city in Uttar Pradesh. This is because of the extended celebration of Holi on the day of Ganga Mela in Kanpur.
The history of Ganga Mela dates back to 1942 when India was tussling for its Independence from the British Raj. During this period, British officials laid a ban on the celebration of native festivals. The civilians henceforth were not allowed to celebrate Holi. In retaliation of this half-witted law and to save their own tradition, the residents of Kanpur began their celebrations despite all odds. Going against the law, they also hoisted the Indian flag in the Rajjanbabu Park of Hatia market, situated now in old Kanpur.
It is believed that this act of disobedience took place under the leadership of Babu Gulab Chandra Seth. The chain of events was sparked after he hoisted the flag in the historical park. The plan to hoist the tricolor is believed to have been plotted in the Navjeevan Library of Hatia market, which had been established by another legendary fighter and famous lyricist of ‘Jhanda Ucha Rahe Humara, Shyam Lal Gupta in 1914. (This library also served as a meeting point for freedom fighters like Chandra Shekhar Azad, Bhagat Singh, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Mahatma Gandhi).
The British officials were infuriated with this act of disobedience. Anticipating further such acts, twelve to fifteen British officials reached the park, tore the tricolor, and arrested around fifty warriors, who were just a handful amongst the crowd. These freedom fighters were imprisoned on the premises of Sarsaiya Ghat.
The arrest of the warriors further led to a protest. The civilians of Kanpur including academicians, peasants, businessmen, workers, etc. became a part of the protest which began from the day of arrest. They collected in the same park where the tricolor was hoisted and in an act of disobedience, they celebrated Holi. The intensity of the protest made the news reach Delhi which was further supported by great leaders like Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi, and other freedom fighters.
The protest resulted in the complete shutdown of the markets of Old Kanpur. The government officials, workers of mills, factories, and peasants refused to continue their work. Instead, they took part in the protest. This caused a huge monetary loss to the British officials in their trade and business.
It is said that the report of the loss reached London on the fifth day of protest and a few British officials were sent to Kanpur for investigation. Following this, some renowned civilians of Kanpur (including the family members of Babu Gulab Chandra Seth) were called by the British officials for a meeting. The civilians refused to attend the meeting, resulting in which the British officials were forced to hold the meeting in the same park where the protest was taking place. The meeting resulted in the release of those fifty freedom fighters.
According to the Hindu calendar, that day was believed to have fallen under the influence of Anuradha Nakshatra (The seventeenth nakshatra (lunar mansion) in Hindu astrology, ruled by Shani-Saturn). To celebrate their victory, the freedom fighters and the civilians of Kanpur toured the entire city while playing with the colors of Holi.
The celebration is believed to have taken place in the form of a procession. After touring the entire city, it ended on the banks of Sarsaiya Ghat, where the Ganga Mela was organized towards the end of the procession. Therefore, the historical Ganga Mela is a testimony to the freedom struggle of the civilians of Kanpur against the British Raj in 1942.
The tradition of Ganga Mela has been followed by the residents of Kanpur for seventy-nine years now. Until today, Holi is played twice in Kanpur. The Nakshatra falls seven days after Holi and hence Holi celebrations continue for a week in Kanpur.
On the day of Anuradha Nakshatra, a procession tours the entire city which ends on the banks of Sarsaiya Ghat. After taking part in the morning procession, the civilians bathe in the holy water of Ganga and afterward gather for the Ganga Mela in the evening.
The Ganga Mela begins with paying floral tribute to the revolutionaries following the other series of events which include hoisting the National Flag at the historical park and Ganga Aarti.
This day is also known as Rang Panchami. Therefore, the celebrations of Holi end with Ganga Mela and commemorates the valor of the freedom fighters of Kanpur. The history of Ganga Mela becomes significant because it talks about various uncelebrated freedom fighters of the Indian independence movement.
Read more from Ananya here: