COLOURFUL CELEBRATION: Scores of celebrants flock to the Hindu Prachar Kendra grounds to celebrate with song, music, dance and the spraying of abeer.

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Phagwa

Festival of Colours

By Ariti Jankie aritijankie@gmail.com

Phagwa, the Hindu Festival of Colours scheduled for next Tuesday, will take place this year on Easter Sunday following a night of festivities in which the effigy of Holika will be burnt in community bonfires.

One of the most colourful celebrations in the Hindu calendar, the Spring season of Phagwa or Holi began on February 17. The Hindu Prachaar Kendra observed "boilin de abeer" tradition to start an annual local songs contest known as "Pichakaaree" while pupils of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha's denominational primary schools began preparing for an annual Chowtal Samelan.

Chowtaal groups across the nation took up the harmonium and dhantaal to sing chowtal, a type of Hindi folk song associated with Spring, a time of harvest in India where the festival originated.

Chowtaal Samelan took place on Saturday at the Tunapuna Hindu School while Children's Phagwa will be held on March 30 (Easter Saturday). Pichakaaree takes place on March 31 (Easter Sunday) at the Kendra headquarters, Ragoonanan Road, Longdenville, Chaguanas where celebrations begin on Friday night with a theatre production titled Calcutta Ship landing on Sandy Shores starting at 6.30 p.m. The burning of Holika takes place on Saturday night following an evening of music and dance.

Secretary general of the Maha Sabha, Satnarayan Maharaj said the official burning of Holika is scheduled for next Tuesday but will take place on the night of March 28 (Good Friday). He said the Hindu schools celebrated Phagwa on a weekend and schools will remain open next Tuesday.

He said the long Easter weekend was ideal for Phagwa as it gave participants more space to renew themselves in the festival held sacred by the Hindu community.

Maharaj explained that Phagwa falls in a period known as "Budwa Mangal"  (celebrated on  April 2, and dedicated to Hanuman) which runs for one week.

He said the Maha Sabha adheres to the tradition and moving next Tuesday's festivities to the weekend that follows was within the 30-day time frame of the festival.

Maharaj stressed that a high level of spirituality had been maintained during Phagwa celebrations over the years without any lewd behaviour, no drinking of any type of alcohol or any form of indecency.

He said every effort would be made to keep up the high standards.

Chowtaal is a type of Hindi folk music associated with Spring, the harvest season in India where the festival originated. It was brought to Trinidad in an oral tradition by indentured labourers during the period 1845 to 1917.

Phagwa is based on the ancient Hindu scriptures; it tells of the demise of a demonic king, Hiranyakashipu.

The story of Phagwa is contained in the Vishnu Puran (Hindu text) where Prahlad, son of King Hiranyakashipu meditated on the Supreme Lord Vishnu. The king had proclaimed himself as God. The young boy Prahlad attempted to reason with his father urging him to pray to Lord Vishnu instead. The egotistic father became angry and tried to destroy his son. Prahlad survived several attempts including the final one in which Holika, sister of the evil king Hiranyakashipu tried to burn Prahlad while protecting herself with a magical scarf. The wind blew the scarf reducing Holika to ashes.

It is the ashes of Holika that translates into the colours of abeer, a variety of coloured powder mixed in water and sprayed in pichakaarees or water guns with much rejoicing symbolic of the triumph of good over evil.

Phagwa also calls for the removal of the ego.

Maharaj said it was a time for merriment, joy and happiness.

"It is a time of renewal," he added.

Phagwa falls on the month of Phagun (February to March) each year and runs from 15 days of the bright half of the moon to 15 days of the dark half of dark night, altogether for 30 days. During this time in India, crops are harvested and thanks given for bumper harvests.

Hindus believe that similar to the tradition of a harvest, they reap good deeds after a year of sacrifice and repentance.

The Phagwa Council of Trinidad and Tobago led by Pundit Sat Gosine celebrates 46 years this year and will stage its sixth annual chowtal singing competition. Festivities take place on Easter Sunday at Aranguez. The Chinmaya Mission of Freeport celebration titled "Ranga Mala" (festival of colours) also takes place on Easter Sunday. Celebrations began on February 17 when chowtal groups began performing at temples and homes. All major celebrations are carded to take place over the Easter weekend.

This year two other major festivals will take place on May 30, when Indian Arrival Day and Corpus Christi will be held.

Indian Arrival Day commemorates the arrival of the first Indian indentured labourers from India to Trinidad, in May 1845, on the ship Fatel Razack while the Feast of Corpus Christi (Latin for Body of Christ) is a "moveable feast" which is celebrated on the Sunday after Holy Trinity.

Phagwa is celebrated at over 100 centres across the country in a blaze of colour, shouts of merriment and fast rhythm of the chowtal.

Pictures taken over the years at the Hindu Prachar Kendra have been used this year as postcards. Kendra file photos selected by Ariti Jankie for distribution during the Holi season.

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