cloud of gulal envelopes revellers at the Kendra Celebrations.
Phagwa, or Holi celebrations, get underway this week when
the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha, the largest local Hindu body,
burns an effigy of Holika on March 14 at three locations:
the Parvati Hindu Girls College, Debe, the Tunapuna
Hindu School and in Vega de Oropouche.
Sat Maharaj, secretary general of the Maha Sabha, said Phagwa
2006 will be one of the biggest ever as the centuries-old
festival that has its roots in India has been gaining much
Maharaj said that on March 18, President George Maxwell
Richards was expected to attend childrens Phagwa celebrations
at the Tunapuna Hindu School, while the national Phagwa
celebrations would take place on March 19.
He said that last year there were more than 500 appearances
by chowtaal groups across the island, and this year, 21
stages were being prepared across Trinidad for some heavy
Chowtaal singing will be at its best, Maharaj said, since
many of the participants had been practising at their temples,
schools and at home to show off their talents on the big
man and woman smear each other with gulal. Photos: Adrian
Maharaj said the recent upsurge in Indian culture did not
happen overnight and was no accident. He said the Maha Sabha
introduced its Baal Vikaas singing competition in its school
system more than two decades ago and this set the stage
for many young artistes to get some level of formal training.
Many of todays local Indian singing artistes have
benefited in some way from the programme, he said. He said
even Government schools have taken advantage of the Maha
Sabhas thrust towards the development of Indian culture.
One such school is the Palmiste Government Primary school,
which raised funds to purchase Indian instruments that the
Maha Sabha was selling at an extremely low price in 2004.
For those unfamiliar with the festival of Phagwa, the celebrations
began in T&T with the arrival of the first indentured
Indians in 1845.
The origins of the festival lie in the Hindu scripture the
Vishnu Purana, which tells the tale of the evil king Hiranyakashipu
who wanted to destroy his son Prahlad because Prahlad did
not want to worship Hiranyakashipu.
The king then plotted with his sister Holika to destroy
Prahlad by fire. Holika had a magic scarf that would protect
her from the flames. When she lured Prahlad into the flames,
however, the young man managed to come out alive and covered
with the scarf, and Holika was burnt instead.
Prahlad then took the ashes and started playing with them.
This event signified the rise of good over evil.
Maharaj said celebrations could not take place before the
burning of the effigy.
He said that abir, the coloured liquid that is synonymous
with the festival, cannot be sprinkled before the effigy
was set alight.
Wherever the Diaspora settled, Phagwa, like Divali, has
followed. In Guyana, Phagwa is a national holiday. It is
also celebrated in the Hindu Kingdom of Nepal, in Suriname,
in the United States, Canada, Mauritius and Fiji.
music of Phagwa
are celebrations without music? The indentured brought with
them in their jahaji bundles several percussion instruments
that include the dholak drums, the kartaal, jhal and majeera.
These instruments are still used today to accompany the
chowtaal bands across the island and none of them run on
electrical power. When combined with the voices of the singers,
however, the music is loud enough to fill a savannah.
The songs are religious in nature and dedicated to Hindu
deities as Lord Shiva, Lord Krishna and Lord Rama. Chowtaal
songs are fast paced and energetic. In recent times some
Bollywood songs have entered into the Phagwa arena, the
most popular being Rang Barse, sung by Indian acting and
singing legend Amitabh Bachan, prominent in a Phagwa scene
in the movie Laawaris.
A different twist to the music was added by the Ravi Ji-led
organisation the Hindu Prachar Kendra. This Hindu body,
based at Longdenville in Central Trinidad, introduced Pichakaree
singing to the stage.
Pichakaree gets its name from the pichakaree gun, the device
used to squirt abir on revellers. Pichakaree has been gaining
momentum in the past decade as a vehicle for the Hindu-Trinidadian
voice to address social and political issues. This new genre
of singing also explores festive songs and there is a category
for the theme the Kendra chooses for its celebrations.
Most of the language used in Pichakaree singing is usually
performed in the English of T&Ts local dialect
and is sprinkled with Hindi and Bhoujpuri words. This appeals
to the contemporary generation and somehow gets the point
across faster in social commentary songs.
The Kendra Pichakaree singing competition that takes place
on the day of the festivities at the Divali Nagar site attracts
many competitors and this year Mohip Poonwassie the 2005
champ will be facing a serious challenge for the top spot.
key element in Phagwa is abir. Children of the 1960s and
70s, who witnessed a revival of Phagwa because of the drive
of the Maha Sabha, will remember red as the significant
colour being used in celebrations. However, since Phagwa
is a spring festival, more colours were gradually introduced
to local celebrations, such as bright blues, greens, shades
of yellow and even black.
Abir is sold as crystals containing a vegetable dye. The
crystals are immersed in hot water to dissolve them and
the mixture is then cooled before being poured into devices
Ingenious T&T minds have developed a pichakaree pump
using PVC pipes that can blast a spray of abir as far as
ten metres. Others may use a squeeze bottle or a soft drink
bottle with hole drilled in the cap to spray the coloured
Abir is supposed to wash off clothing. There are those,
however, who add the secretions of the banana plant or the
juice from a ripe cashew to the mixture to create a permanent
stain on fabric.
Another recent addition to T&Ts celebration is
the use of gulal or coloured powder. Gulal is popular in
India, especially in the Punjabi city of Chandigarh. Gulal
represents the ashes of Holika and is usually smeared on
revellers. Gulal has an almost fluorescent colour and in
most instances acts to provide a powdery mask to the masses