The celebration of India’s Holi is similar to Guyana’s Phagwah

Dear Editor,

As I travel around India from Delhi to Madya Pradesh to Rajasthan to Gujarat to Mumbai to Uttar Pradesh and to Bihar, and indeed all across northern India, people are celebrating or making preparations to celebrate Holi. It is called Holi as opposed to Phagwah in Guyana and other parts of the Caribbean. Planning and preparation for the festival in India are similar to what is done in Guyana or the Caribbean societies where Phagwah is observed. It is a riot of colours almost impossible to describe; I have never seen so many colors in one location.

The Pyres of Holika, due to be lit on Thursday midnight, were observed everywhere. Almost every street had a mound of dried wood of a conical shape that was be set ablaze.  Setting the pyres (Holika) on fire symbolizes the destruction of evil which is the meaning of Holi. It is a national holiday in India and is perhaps the largest festival after Diwali in India and among the Indian diaspora. Schools and government offices as well as all businesses are closed on Friday. People who are employed away from home, returned to their homes or villages to celebrate the occasion with families.

On the streets, as well as in schools, colleges and offices, people were seen rubbing abeer (powder) on each other’s face long before Holika was burnt. The last day of classes was on Wednesday as students were sent home for an extended holiday weekend. Everywhere on Thursday, people were seen celebrating with much fervour. Thursday was called Chota Holi as it precedes the actual day of the celebration.

There is a multitude of colours of powders on the faces as well as on clothing. Mounds of abeer of every colour imaginable were seen in markets everywhere I travelled. Youngsters also had spray guns and older folks had colourful hats. Markets were teeming with shoppers purchasing related items for the festivals: vegetables, new clothing, fruits, spray guns, talc powder, and abeer. Grapes and guavas are plentiful as this is the season for both. In some cities, people celebrated with gusto with an even grander celebration planned for Friday. In Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, from where most Guyanese trace their roots, chowtaal music was heard at every street or home. TV stations also aired Bollywood scripted songs. And children were smearing abeer on each other’s face or clothing or hair. I, myself was smeared by adults and kids on the streets. More is in store on Friday. Smearing is similar to what happens in Guyana — on the face and hair. Liquid was not used on Thursday but will be used on Friday similar to Guyana. Ashes of the burnt pyre will be mixed in water and poured on revelers, similar to what takes place in Guyana going back to the time of the indentureds.

The festival is celebrated with the same kinds of food we consume in Guyana on the day ‒ ghoja, kheer, ladoo, gulab jamun, channa, matar peas, dhal puri or matar puri, alou curry, phulourie, pakora, bara and bhaji, among other items. There must be a minimum of eight items. I was entertained at homes in Bihar and UP where a variety of vegetarian dishes, dhal and rice were served ‒ very spicy but tasty.

Overall, it is been a very enjoyable Holi festival in India; people of all ethnicities and religions participate and share in the joy.

Yours faithfully,

Vishnu Bisram

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