Feminist activist and writer Amanda T McIntrye explored the intersections between race relations, misogyny and Carnival in T&T in her recent talk, Close to My Skin.
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Phagwa celebrates the Hindu New Year in India, heralding the arrival of spring and the triumph of life over death. This festival, also called Holi or the festival of colours, is a communal, joyous celebration of life where people relax and throw bright liquids (abeer) or purple powder at each other in a spirit of fun. Phagwa is celebrated on the first day of the full moon in the month of Phagun (February to early March).
Phagwa in T&T is not a form of Hindu Carnival—although there will be lots of lively activity, including stiff competition for the best chowtal (song) and dance group performances. Phagwa has a transcendental message—one of truth, faith, honesty and grace, while celebrating life through singing chowtals, shaking jhalls, tassa drumming and squirting abeer. Several Hindu organisations in T&T will celebrate Phagwa today. The Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha led by Satnarayan Maharaj said there will be celebrations at over 20 locations, including Felicity, Curepe, St Augustine, Cedros and Tunapuna.
Through the festival’s connection to the Hindu legends of the arrogant King Hiranyakashipu, his evil sister Holika and the honourable, brave boy Prahalad who miraculously survives a fire, Phagwa conveys the idea of rebirth, and of the victory of the oppressed against their oppressors. It suggests the hope that supreme justice will prevail. It reaffirms the belief in truth, goodness and justice in the world. Part of Phagwa’s message is that we need more Prahalads. We have too many Hiranyakashipuses in our world.
Phagwa affirms the concept of divine omnipresence, whether on our tiny planet or in the billions of galaxies spread across the infinite universe. Each and every individual, regardless of religion or nationality, race or ideology, embodies a spark of divinity. The highest goal of life is to fan this spark within each of us and allow it to blaze into spiritual realisation. Phagwa emphasises the idea of spiritual release as well as community welfare. It is a way of ridding people of the negatives in their lives to make way for joyful, creative beginnings. Happy Phagwa! —reporting by Paras Ramoutar
MORE INFO on Phagwa
There are several Hindu stories to explain why Holi or Phagwa is celebrated. In one story, the word Holi originates from Holika, the evil sister of demon king Hiranyakashipu. King Hiranyakashipu had earned a boon that made him virtually indestructible. The special powers blinded him, and he grew arrogant, even feeling he was a god, and he demanded that everyone worship only him. His son, Prahalad, refused to do this. He remained devoted to Vishnu.
This infuriated King Hiranyakashipu. He subjected Prahalad to cruel punishments, none of which affected the boy or his resolve to do what he thought was right. Finally, Holika—Prahalad's evil aunt—tricked him into sitting on a pyre with her. Holika was wearing a cloak that made her immune to injury from fire, while Prahalad was not. As the fire roared, the cloak flew from Holika and encased Prahalad. Holika burned, while Prahalad survived. Vishnu appeared and killed Hiranyakashipu. The bonfire is a reminder of the symbolic victory of good over evil, and of Prahalad over Hiranyakashipu.
In Hinduism, the word Prakriti means Nature, or the primal motive force of all the universe. Prakrti or Nature is believed to be made of three “gunas” or modes: creation (sattva), preservation (rajas) and destruction (tamas). King Hiranyakashipu, in the story, did not measure up to the sattva aspect of nature which embodies the purity, light and harmony of creation. The King did not succeed at the “rajas” aspect—preservation of life—either.
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