President David Granger: Former Presidents Bharrat Jagdeo, Samuel Hinds, Donald Ramotar, former Prime Minister, Mr. Hamilton Greene; Ministers of the Government; Members of the National Assembly; His Excellency, Venkatachalam Mahalingam and Mrs. Anu Mahalingam, High Commissioner and wife of the High Commissioner of India to Guyana; Members of the Diplomatic Corps; Members of the Indian Cultural Centre; Members of the Indian community in Guyana; members of the media and I believe members of the university campus here, very obvious by their presence; ladies and gentlemen:
I must thank the High Commissioner for arranging this good weather. I’ve never come in rainy weather. It rains just before or just after, but the High Commissioner always seems to have good weather. I’m happy to be here, of course, to celebrate Holi and to bring Holi greetings to all Guyanese. As you know, the Indian community has been reinforced by the Indian Cultural Centre over the years and I must compliment the High Commissioner. I think he mentioned to me that this Cultural Centre is one of the oldest, if not the oldest to be established, and it is continuing after so many decades.
So I congratulate the performers, the artistes and the High Commissioner for maintaining the vibrancy of this Indian Cultural Centre here in Guyana. But the month after next we celebrate the 180th anniversary of the arrival of Indians in Guyana and we are proud that they have been able to maintain this tradition- singing of the chowtaal, the celebration of Phagwah. As the High Commissioner explained, it’s called Holi in other parts of India but our Bhojpuri ancestors celebrated it as Phagwah and we will continue to call it Phagwah. Happy Phagwah!
I think many persons regard Holi or Phagwah as a sacred festival and in a sense, it’s also a social festival. A couple of weeks ago we celebrated the Chinese spring festival. A couple of weeks from now, we’ll be celebrating the Christian Easter which is another spring festival and today we celebrate the Hindu spring festival which is Phagwah.
So whether you are a devotee, whether you are a believer in religion or not, this is an important secular and spiritual festival but for Guyana, as you can see, this festival is a great equalizer. When I come here I’m no longer President, I’m just an object of abeer and abrack so we’re all the same today. Perhaps this is a good day for national cohesion; I don’t think I’ve been greeted by so many members of the Opposition in such a friendly manner. We must have more Phagwahs.
We feel that in Guyana this is a unifying festival for us and going around the country, I can only wish and I hope that maybe the Indian Cultural Centre and maybe the High Commissioner could consider now that we have regional radio stations in Mabaruma, in Bartica, in Mahdia, in Lethem, our four newest towns – Mahdia is soon to be one of our towns – if we can have broadcasts of these festivals and its music in all parts of Guyana; I think it will help to bring us closer together; it would help us to build respect and understand one another. There’s no reason why people in Lethem this day or Bartica, shouldn’t be listening to the music that we here in Georgetown are listening to. This is an important festival for us. It’s a national festival and regardless of the religious significance, it is clearly one that is very popular – popular because of its vitality and popular because all of us could share in it without feeling that it is intruding on our personal religious beliefs. We are a multicultural country and always will be. When you’re mixed, you’re mixed forever; you can’t ‘unmix’ and we appreciate the differences among the people in this diverse country; we appreciate that festivals like this foster unity rather than disunity.
So as President, I urge that all other communities whether they are Christian, Muslim, Hindu, whether they are living in other parts of the country, embrace Phagwah, embrace Holi, embrace the values, embrace the joy and vitality that we are celebrating here today. I do believe that a festival like this helps to break down barriers, it helps to make us understand that we Guyanese have come from different backgrounds but we have a common destiny.
Thank you, congratulations, and happy Holi and keep on doing this good work Mr. Mahalingham.