Classical singer: Veejai Ramkissoon

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A play for Phagwa

By Ariti Jankie

The Hindu Spring Festival of Phagwa has begun. The season started on February 17, at the Hindu Pachaar Kenda, Ragoonanan Road, Longdenville, Chaguanas with the spraying of abeer (coloured water), music, songs and dance. Fresh flowers added its colour and fragrance to the joyous festival known also as Holi.

This year, Hindu activist and Kendra founder, Ravi Ji stepped down as director of the theatre group. He handed to reins to agriculturist Nalini Champa Maharaj who penned the play titled, Calcutta Ship Landing on Sandy Shores.

Rehearsals have begun on the drama which will be staged on March 29 at the Kendra grounds from 6.30 p.m. and will make way for the annual Pichakaaree local song competition carded for March 31.

The annual festival attracted a large audience to witness a chulha (fireside) built with mud and placed on a decorated closed barrel top. The fire was brought to flames by surgeon, Dr Vijay Naryansingh who used a pookney (pipe) to blow oxygen into the sticks placed within the chulha.

Several of the guests stood in line to "boil de abeer" a term used to symbolise new talent in song, music and dance which explodes once a year into "pichakaaree".

Playwright Maharaj said that Calcutta Ship is a continuation of the story of Prahlaad, a young boy who according to Indian mythology fled his father's kingdom from religious persecution.

"Prahlaad has been visiting Trinidad each year in the kendra's annual drama," she said adding that this year he will sneak into the Culture and Festival Arts Department of The UWI to collaborate with national dance tutors.

She said travelling on the ship from Calcutta, India Prahlaad has incarnated as Pyong, a Trinidadian youth. The play is set during a ten-year period lasting from 1952 to 1962.

Boilin-de-Abeer featured classical singer Veejai Ramkissoon singing "thumrees" a type of classical/folk song. He was accompanied by Sanjay Yankatesu on the drums and Sunil Ramkissoon on the dhantaal. The trio presented music that was passed on, in an oral tradition by indentured labourers of India who arrived in Trinidad between 1845 and 1917.

The festival of flowers, fragrance, foods and fraternity was combined with an early morning village experience.

Also known as Vasant Panchami, the season continues at the Kendra in its 17th year and will feature a long list of singers vying for valuable prizes in the pichakaaree local song contest.

Speaking at the occasion, Kendra spokesperson, Geeta Vaahini said in Pichakaree singing, budding artistes were given a platform to express themselves in arts and culture including music, songs, dances, poetry and painting.

Boilin-de-abeer signalled the time for singers to begin their local compositions for the annual songs competition.

Pichakaree is a musical art form created by Ravi Ji in celebration of Phagwa and was named after the long syringe-like tubes used to spray abeer during the celebrations.

Social commentary form the lyrics sung in a mixture of Hindi, English and Bhojpuri words.

Veteran Pichakaaree singer, Jagdeo Phagoo will defend his title which he won at last year's competitions.

Over 40 singers have been registered to compete.

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