Phagwah

Trip Start Oct 30, 2010
1
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Trip End Aug 27, 2011


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Flag of Guyana  , Demerara-Mahaica,
Thursday, March 24, 2011

After the march on Saturday and all the hard work we had put in over the course of the day and the preceding week, we were rewarded with a long weekend which began with festivities for the Indian holiday Phagwah. Phagwah, has been appropriated into the Guyanese calendar of national holidays as Guyana has a large Indian population, and is one of numerous nations outside of India that celebrate the holiday as part of the Hindu diaspora. Phagwah (also known as Holi in India, and according to some sources is actually distinct but related to Phagwah) is considered the festival of colors and marks the arrival of spring.  It's roots back to an old religious story in which Vishnu reminds human kind that no one is greater than God. As the story goes (borrowed from http://www.nalis.gov.tt/Festivals/festivals_PhagwaTips.htm):

Long ago there was a king called Hiranyakashipu, who thought himself to be an omnipotent and supreme being; he was the recipient of a divine gift of immortality and believed that he alone was to be worshipped.

The king had a nine-year-old son named Prahalad, who one day witnessed a miracle.  A potter woman had prayed, "Ram, Ram, Ram" to save three kittens that had mistakenly been forgotten in a clay pot put to bake.  The woman's prayers were answered and God spared the kittens.  From that moment, Prahalad started chanting the name of Lord Rama.

This outraged the king, who ordered that his son be killed.  The boy was put to death in various ways, but each in vain; he walked away every time chanting, "Ram, Ram, Ram."

The king remembered his sister, who was called Holika.  She owned a magic orhni (scarf / mantilla) that allowed the wearer to step into a fire without getting burned.  The king ordered Holika to wear the orhni and carry Prahalad into a fiery pit, where the boy would be burnt to ashes.

However, God would again intervene.

A strong breeze blew the orhni off Holika's head and she was the one who burned to ashes while Prahalad was miraculously saved.

An outraged King Hiranyakashipu then decided to kill Prahalad himself.


However, the youngster's faith in God would again triumph.  A beast with a man's body and a lion's head appeared and attacked the king.  His immortality disappeared and the man-lion tore him limb from limb.

The moral of the story; Prahalad's faith in God saved him; no man is bigger than God.


The holiday begins by burning a symbolic Holika to represent the burning of the boy's aunt -a symbol of God's retribution. After this ceremony, people chase each other around covering one another with colorful abir (similar in texture to baby powder) which represents the rebirth of the boy and his faith, new energy and the strength of society. The symbolism behind these activities is contested, but some form of these rituals occur each year during the onset of spring in Hindu communities much as they have for hundreds of years.

My experience with Phagwah began with trying to find appropriate clothes which I wouldn't mind potentially staining should I get covered in abir. I left for Guyana with only one large backpack, so finding something that I didn't absolutely need was somewhat of an issue. What I found consisted of a pair of biker shorts I used to work out in and a white tank top which stretches out far to much to enjoy wearing. I had heard that people also spray water at eachother so I thought that wearing a bathing suit underneath my clothing would prevent me from looking too scandalous should my clothing get wet. Little did I know that scandalous I would look indeed and that my beloved bathing suit did not stand a chance against what I believe to be abir mixed with water and sprayed at me through a super soaker.

Our first stop of the day was a 40 minute drive from Georgetown across the Demerara Harbour bridge to a rural community temple where women and children were dressed in beautiful Saris and men in what we might call, "proper Sunday attire" (thus my beyond super casual outfit did not quite fit in at the scene). We watched as people performed prayers and a cleansing ritual, and were asked to join in a vegetarian meal (in and around Phagwah, non-vegetarian Hindus give up meat) served in a lotus leaf and eaten by hand (by the way having this experience was all thanks to Pere and all of the wonderful friends of hers that she introduced me to).

It was after we ate that the abir smearing and super soaker spraying activities ruined my bathing suit and covered me from head to toe in powder and colorful spray within a matter of 5 minutes.Once I looked around and saw that all of the beautiful saris in the vicinity were also seeing their demise, I stopped lamenting my comparatively small loss, and was suddenly brushing excess amir off my face and on to that of others, stealing super soakers and turning my own "predators" into "victims" while wishing all a "Happy Holi!"

When I thought I could be no more saturated in powder and colour than I already was, we left the temple, took a brief pit stop at one of Pere's friends' houses where we were offered yet more wonderful food and got an additional layer of powder and coloured water added to our already covered bodies. Since Pere's friend lives out in the boonies, she was kind enough to drive us out to the nearest bus stop (although I don't know how or why... she probably had to spend hours cleaning the car after letting us into it) so that we could cross back over the river and get to the stadium where more secular Phagwah activities were being held. 

The stadium had hundreds of people enjoying the music being performed and high on the energy of dancing and covering neighbours known and unknown with more abir and paint. There was no alcohol allowed as a religious observance given that it is after all a religious holiday (although I noticed a few people who snuck some in lol) and yet everyone was having a wonderful time.  After just a few hours, I had more powder and colour caked on me than the rest of us combined (I guess a light skin effect) which took me 45 minutes to wash off and I am still finding paint in my ears and between my toes today.

After the stadium celebration, we dropped off Aisha back home, went out for Pizza which was literally the best I have had in years (remember I have been in Asia, and good pizza is hard to find), and headed out to the sea wall to socialize over a beverage as many people do on Sunday nights. We were still as of then in the same covered and colourful states... and trust me we got a lot of laughs and looks especially since I didn't wipe my face off at all while most of the rest of us did).

It was a great way to kick of my first little while in Guyana and I am already looking forward to what future holidays may hold... too bad I won't be here for Mashramani!

Write again soon!
Mich



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Comments

Niki on

Awesome pictures and video! Looks like a lot of fun... I can throw some crushed coloured chalk here in Canada when you get back hehe!

Hana on

Nice makeup Mys...

Nicole on

this post is amazing! miss you chingu, will be sending you a message shortly! <3

mishkabobala
mishkabobala on

Miss you too friend!! I hope I get to see your face soon! xox

Jessimesh on

That looks like so much fun!! Your poor little bathing suit lol... a small sacrifice. makes our game parties look lame..

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