Phagwah or Holi is a jubilant Hindu festival, which marks the ushering in of the spring season and the commencement of the Hindu New Year. Holi also celebrates new beginnings, fertility, colour, love, and the triumph of good over evil.
Holi: Festival of Colours
In Guyana, people of every religion, ethnicity, race, and creed come together to celebrate Holi, a two-day festival which starts on the night of the full moon in March with burning Holika (Holika Dahan) and concludes the next day after a ‘carnival of colours’, where people gather in public places and at their homes to participate in the festivities.
Technical Officer at the Ministry of Social Cohesion, Ms. Pamela Nauth, whose Ministry is mandated to promote education and the acceptance of festivals like Holi, said Phagwah is an important day on the Hindu calendar.
“[Holi] started from… the 20th of March and goes… into the 21st. Tonight you’re going to have the burning of the Holika. That’s the burning of the bad, all the bad deeds… Phagwah is really [about] good triumphing over evil… So, you burn all the bad things… It’s about Prahalad. He was a great son of… King [Hiranyakashipu], but this king was quite a tyrant and did a lot of atrocities to his people. Prahalad, his son, wanted to change that. So, the burning of the Holika symbolises that badness taking it into goodness. That [represents] the triumph of… good over evil,” she said.
In Guyana, the festivities associated with Holi are a beautiful expression of culture that contributes to national unity in that it helps citizens to understand and appreciate the uniqueness of Guyana’s diverse cultural mosaic.
“As Guyanese, we embrace a lot of the religious holidays, Easter, Christmas, and so on. Its celebrated with a lot of pomp and splendour… The Festival of Colours, which Phagwah signifies, [happens] in the afternoon. People play with all the colours… the colours of the rainbow… Each colour has a meaning to it, like white would signify purity… There [is a] specific relevance to each one of these colours that symbolises the real festival of colours. Phagwah also means spring, the reaping of the crops in celebration,” Ms. Nauth said.
The Technical Officer explained that the country-wide celebration of religious holidays increases the population’s religious tolerance and helps them to see one another as one people.
“I think Guyanese… have a lot of religious tolerance and acceptance and we embrace this and we look forward to it because we’re a plural society… We… have neighbours of different ethnicity, different cultural [and] religious backgrounds, but yet still we embrace it. This is what it’s all about… I think this is what makes us unique. We embrace the different religions and the different cultures and it’s an opportunity for us to unite, to be a harmonious society and I’ve seen this in a number of festivals and religious activities,” she said.
Ms. Nauth added, “This is not something new to us. Social cohesion has always been practiced by Guyanese. We have been a socially cohesive society for as long as anybody can remember. I think these festivals just give us an opportunity to strengthen that cohesiveness.”
A unifying festival
Since taking office in 2015, President David Granger has opened the doors of State House in support of religious and cultural celebrations and representation in Guyana.
Mr. Dev Das, President of the Hare Krishna Study Centre while offering a few words to usher in the week of Holi, encouraged attendees to see the spread of colourful powders during Phagwah as artistic expression a multi-cultural, but socially cohesive Guyana.
“As you [apply] those colours and as those colours will be mixed together, [I hope] that we all will be united in a similar way… These colours, as they mix together, will paint a wonderful picture. We all, when we colour our hearts… we paint a wonderful picture that we will offer to this land that is dear to all of us, the land that we love,” he said.
This year, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Carl Greenidge, who is performing the functions of the President, hosted the State House celebration of Holi emphasising its theme of unity and harmony.
“Phagwah is intended to be a unifying festival. It is a time in which barriers of age, class, race, and sex are disregarded and when everyone can come together and be happy. At this time, we should, therefore, set aside differences and misunderstandings… Phagwah’s underlying message of harmony urges us to dispense with division, disunity, distrust, and disaffection. It is my hope, therefore that this message will permeate through and percolate within our society. May the values of this great festival of Phagwah nestle in our hearts and help to strengthen the bonds of unity within our country,” he said.
Spring has come on the Hindu calendar and with it comes a great hope for new beginnings and fresh opportunities to support and encourage our fellow Guyanese. Let us all celebrate the kaleidoscope of colours within our nation that binds us together in true unity. Happy Holi!
A Message from President David Granger: The festival of friendship and fellowship
I extend best wishes to the people of Guyana on the occasion of the joyous festival of Holi (or Phagwah).
Holi is a spiritual event that recounts the adversities of Prahalad, his unshakeable faith and his eventual triumph over the forces of destruction.
Holi, also, is a secular event that signifies rebirth and regeneration. These are universal themes which are common to all the major religions in Guyana.
Holi ― a colourful and vibrant festival ― was introduced into Guyana by the Hindu migrants who came to work and live here one hundred and eighty-one years ago. The festival, with its origins in Hindu and Indian culture, has become national in character and is celebrated across the country, engendering hope and an outpouring of happiness.
Holi fosters the spirit of togetherness. It celebrates our shared humanity, without regard to social differences and divisions. It conveys a powerful message of friendship and fellowship.
I encourage Guyanese everywhere to enjoy the festival of Holi and to celebrate the values of social cohesion and national unity by rejecting the forces of division.