Today, Guyanese from all walks of life will join Hindus in India and around the world wherever Hindus live to celebrate Phagwah. Known also as Holi, Phagwah is an ancient religious Hindu festival which originated in India in the month of Phagoon on the Hindu calendar, several hundred years before the birth of Christ.
It is the festival of colors in honor of the Hindu God, Vishnu. It is also a festival of love of Radha, the perceived adulterous lover of Lord Krishna, the most widely revered and most popular of all Indian divinities. The festival is sacred to the Hindu religion.
The festivities officially usher in the arrival of spring and are the spiritual influence over the environment to aid in successful crops. They are the thanksgiving of a good harvest. The festival date varies from year to year on the Hindu calendar.
Typically the festival which lasts for two days is celebrated on the day of the full moon which falls somewhere between the end of February and the middle of March. It is an occasion for people to enjoy the changing seasons and make new friends. For many Hindus, the festival also marks the beginning of the New Year when people renew relationships with old acquaintances.
The Phagwah festival has a cultural and spiritual significance among various Hindu traditions of the Indian subcontinent. It is the time to rid oneself of past mistakes, to end conflicts by meeting and greeting others, to forget and forgive other for their past grievances, to pay or forgive debts, as well as deal anew with those in their lives.
In Guyana, Phagwah is a national holiday, and although it is a Hindu festival, its public outreach in the country has taken it beyond Hinduism into a national and popular cultural festival celebrated by Guyanese from all walks of life. Days before the festival, Hindus would gather wood and combustible materials for the bonfire which takes place in parks, community centers, near temples and other open spaces.
On top of the pyre is an effigy to signify Holika who tricked Prince Prahalad into the fire. Inside their homes are stock piles of pigments, party drinks and festive seasonal foods and other local delicacies.
The celebrations start on the night before Phagwah with a bonfire where Hindus gather to do religious rituals and pray that their internal evil be destroyed. The next morning the celebration starts with a free-for-all carnival of colors, where the participants indulge in the throwing of a harmless liquid called abeer on each other.
Abeer is a red dye which symbolizes the blood of the tyrannical King Kiranya who was ordered burnt alive by his son, Prince Prahalad, because of the suffering endured by many people during the reign of his father.
Powder, perfume and water are also thrown on family, friends and neighbours by the partakers in what is an amusing, good-natured and joyful celebration. The frolic and fight occurs in the open streets, open parks, outside temples and buildings. Groups with drums and other musical instruments would sing and dance in the streets.
The celebrations of Phagwah in 2017 in Guyana should help bring the two major races and all in society together and strengthen the secular fabric of the country. It does not differentiate between the rich and poor as everybody regardless of status celebrate the festival together with a spirit of love, friendliness and brotherhood.
The celebrations tend to turn enemies into friends by helping them to forget and forgive any of bad feelings that had existed before.
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