Wednesday, June 17, 2009

In India where Phagwa is called Holi, it is played on the streets, villages, towns and cities celebrated by the Hindus.

Phagwa is an ancient Hindu festival celebrated in India for many centuries.

It came to Trinidad and Tobago with the arrival of Indian indentureship in 1845.

The origin of Phagwa or Holi can be traced to the Hindu holy scriptures Vishnu Purana in which there is the story of an evil King Hiranyakashipu who wanted to destroy his own son Prahalad for worshipping God and not himself (the king). According to the scriptures, Hiranyakashipu then made a plot with his sister Holika to destroy the child Prahalad by fire, for being disobedient to him. Instead, Holika perished in the inferno while Prahalad survived, thus establishing victory for good deeds over evil ones.
The tradition of the burning of Holika continues and precedes the actual day on which Phagwa is celebrated.
Outside of India, the land of its origin, Phagwa is also celebrated in the Hindu kingdom of Nepal and in Guyana, Suriname, England, United States, Canada, Fiji, and Mauritius and in several other countries where Hindus reside.

Musical instruments used in the early days were mainly percussion - dholak (drum), kartaal, jhaal and majeera. These instruments are still used today I the chowtal singing that accompanies Phagwa celebrations. Songs for the occasion are dedicated to Hindu deities Lord Shiva, Lord Krishna and Lord Rama.
In Trinidad, by the late 19th and early 20th centuries chowtal groups were growing in numbers with cultural activist Rambally Parray (1868-1940), an indentured labourer from India, and his sons Latchmi Narine and Ramarine Parray playing prominent roles. Celebrants at that time played in their villages and roadways where they lived. They brought form their homes messages of love, peace and happiness, and ended the day by sharing meals and refreshments.

With the founding of the National Phagwa Council in 1967, Phagwa came into national prominence. Celebrations promoted by that organisation are still being held at the Aranjuez Savannah in San Juan. In the early days, there was much revelry with participants using garden equipment, like the spray can, to douse their friends with abir.
Fun and laughter added to the joyous occasion in which citizens of all races joined in. And it was quite common for the boys armed with bottles of abir to chase the girls in friendly encounter, some of them perhaps hoping to establish closer friendships that could blossom into love.
Soon, the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha followed and celebrations spread throughout the land at numerous venues, notably playgrounds and public parks.
In India where the festival is called Holi, it is played on the streets, villages, towns and cities in that vast country of 800 million Hindus.
In the Punjab capital city of Chandigarh, most of the celebrants choose coloured powder instead of liquid. There, the residents take to the streets beating drums, singing and dancing Bhangra and showering abir on others, covering the landscape with clouds of colours.
Popular Hindi film songs on Holi are sung with the dancing on the streets mainly by the menfolk. The ladies meanwhile, move from house to house in the neighbourhood, applying abir on the faces and clothing of their friends and families in the selected colours of red, green, blue, yellow, pink, purple and orange.
The introduction of children's Phagwa by the Maha Sabha in the early 1980s ensures that young Hindus continue to preserve that ancient cultural event. Students from Hindu schools throughout the country journey to the Tunapuna Hindu School every year to compete in chowtal singing, drumming and dancing.
When the adults take the stage, large trucks with celebrants soaked in a variety of colours travel around the country to various venues matching skills with other groups in chowtal singing, dhantal playing and drumming. Some tassa groups also enter the arena to add some heavy drumming for participants to dance.

The Hindu Prachar Kendra has added a different touch to its style of celebrations. While abir spraying is the order of the day with some introductory chowtal singing, the main event is the live televised broadcast of its Pichkaree song contest to the nation.


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