Phagwah is celebrated similarly in India, Guyana and NY

Dear Editor,
A group of Guyanese left NY to celebrate Phagwah in India. I have just returned to NY from a trip to India travelling in rural areas to get a sense of how people celebrate the festival in the villages. Surprisingly, in India people were not in a Phagwah spirit two weeks ago as we have been in Guyana and NY. But Phagwah-mania has hit India this weekend as I was informed by the Guyanese group now on tour in India.

The tour leader said the country has geared up to celebrate Phagwah similar to how we have prepared for Phagwah in Queens, NY, except that we made preparations weeks ago and in India preparations are speeding up only now. They observed pyres in several locations.

Holi in India is a sight to behold. Although two weeks before the celebration, I could not see Phagwah paraphernalia in the stores unlike Guyana and NY, Phagwah is a massive celebration over a two-day period.  It is a public holiday as in Guyana. But unlike in Guyana where chowtal groups sing folk songs from weeks before the actual festival, in India, people fall into the Phagwah spirit just for two days. In NY, the temple groups have been singing chowtals during the Sunday sermons since mid-February.

In India, the street festival on Holi is magnificent, and comparable to Guyana. And speaking with the group now touring India, they are in a jubilant mood.  As in NY and Guyana, there is widespread expectancy as it is the first Holi for them in India. They have not come across any chowtal singing groups as yet. But they hope to see these groups at bonfires.

As in Guyana and NY, non-Hindus also partake in the Holi celebrations in India especially in the villages where Muslims and Hindus live together as in the districts of Azamgarh, Gazipur, Bharatpur and Mau where I visited, and to where many Guyanese trace their roots. It is a jamboree for all similar to NY where non-Indians also partake in the festival.  Many moulvis and non-Hindu leaders seeking political office (with elections starting on April 16 in India) encourage their followers to join in the celebrations.

In NY, organizations have prepared the pyre that will symbolically burn holika.  However, they do not look like the huge pyres in Guyana or in India. Holi in India has huge pyres of woods for the bonfire. These pyres choke traffic in the cities but people don’t mind the inconvenience because they looked forward to the celebration.

In India, close to the festival stores and street peddlers (or hucksters) are stocked with Phagwah related items such as abeer, pitchkaries, abrack and gulal. The same has been true in NY which has bountiful supplies. Heaps of colourful powder in more colours than you can imagine are stacked up on stalls in the streets. In NY, a similar variety of colourful abeer will rain everywhere  among Guyanese youths running around squirting the stuff on friends.
Happy Holi all!
Yours faithfully,
Vishnu Bisram

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