It’s Fun! It’s Colourful! It’s Phagwah!
Enjoy Our Culture and Heritage. Be Part of the Festivities
Story By: Deomattie Seeram & Photos By: Amanda Richards
Holi or Phagwah as it is commonly called is an annual Hindu Festival of Colours celebrating the arrival of Spring. This Festival was brought to Guyana by our East Indian foreparents who first came to Guyana some 176 years ago. Holi is said to be the most joyous and colourful of festivals and today has become a part of our national psyche and is celebrated by all Guyanese.
Holi celebrations start on Basant Panchmi which is the fifth day of the bright half of the Hindu month ÔMaghÕ. On this day, in keeping with tradition, homage is done to Saraswati Devi the goddess of knowledge and a castor oil tree is planted as a symbolic act. During a period of 40 days from Basant Panchmi to Holika Dahan, melodies of chowtaal ÔdhamaarÕ and jati renditions can be heard across the country at Hindu temples and homes.
Holika Dahan or burning of the Holika (castor oil tree) takes place on Phalgun Purnima or the full moon day of the Hindu month Phalgun. It is the last day of the Hindu Calendar year and forty days after Basant Panchmi. On this day, a pyre is built around the castor oil tree which is ignited at the appropriate time as a symbolic act recalling the day when the sister of the tyrannical King Hiranyakashyapu, who had a boon which made her immune to the effect of fire, sought to have her own nephew Prahalad consumed in fire at the command of her evil brother, the King Hiranyakashyapu. Prahalad however, escaped unscathed and Holika was reduced to ashes instead. This event symbolizes the triumph of good over evil.
On this night throughout our country, chowtaal goles lead processions of not only Hindus but members of their communities to a chosen site where puja is done. It is in this manner Hindus usher in Phagwah or Holi and the Hindu New Year.
On Phagwah morning, a member of the Mandir would collect some of the ash and place it on the forehead of members of the Mandir who would also be present there. This represents renewal, hope and confidence in life.
In Guyana, it is customary in the morning that you see citizens wishing each other Happy Phagwah and dousing each other with buckets full of water and spraying abeer from their water guns. The men from the Hindu communities will walk around their villages singing chowtaal while the women are usually at home preparing Indian delicacies such as gulaab jamoon, gojha, gul-gula, pholourie, etc.
In the afternoon, everyone is usually dressed in white and carries around with them containers or bags filled with abrak, powder, perfumes and water guns filled with abeer. Hindus would visit their families to greet them and also take delicacies they wouldÕve prepared the morning after which, they would go to events that are organized by the various organizations across the nation. Here many people would see their friends and relatives and enjoy the remainder of the festivities with them.
On passing at these events, the many different colours can be seen on people and in the air. You can feel the happiness of the time reverberate through your entire being. The entertainment by live bands and the well choreographed dances add to the pomp of this joyous festivity where Guyanese of all walks of life celebrate and renew the spirit of goodwill, togetherness, love and unity!
If you are visiting Guyana during Holi celebrations, join in the fun and enjoy the colourful and festive spirit.