The much awaited Phagwah Parade brought out thousands of Guyanese, Trinidadians and other nationalities on a glorious sunshine filled Saturday to Liberty Avenue to watch the parade of numerous floats organized by various mandirs (temples) and businesses make their way along designated route to Phil Rizzuto Park at 95th and 125th street in Queens while others patiently waited in the park.
The exuberance was seen as people frolicked and danced on the streets, and in the park as they splashed Holi colors and talc on each other. Young and old gathered in large numbers greeting friends, families and neighbors from near and far with a splash of colors to celebrate this aged tradition. Also in attendance were several city officials including councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) as well as the police whose presence was seen everywhere to keep the event safe.
After more than one year of bickering among the Guyanese Hindu religious leaders regarding who should be staging the annual parade, the Federation of Hindu Mandirs Inc. and the USA Pandit’s Parishad called on the leaders to put aside their differences after being pressured by the Hindu communities. People were pleased to see the two religious leaders of the major Hindu denominations arrive at the parade grounds in the same motorcade. “Such bickering can cause Hindus to lose a 175 years old tradition,” said people committed to the practicing of their religion, “this is no way to unite and propagate Hinduism.” The parade was launched in 1988 to continue the culture among the diaspora of East Indians from Guyana to the United States (US), who left their country to create a new life in the US. Like their ancestors, they wanted something familiar to keep their spirits alive and one way was to continue their cultural traditions.
Pagwah started in Guyana and Trinidad in the nineteenth century when Indian indentured servants were hired to work on sugar plantations after the abolition of slavery. Moving to strange lands with different cultures, it scared the indentured servants. So to have a feeling of home they recreated a life with their village traditions from North India. The faith in their religion was so strong that even the plantocracy and missionaries couldn’t convert the Indians to Christianity nor keep them from continuing their traditions. Eventually the planters relented and allowed them to practice their religion because it was cheaper to keep the workers on the plantations than paying their passage back to India.
Since then the celebration took root and with each passing year Hindus have strengthened their customs and traditions in their motherland and wherever they live. So it was no surprise the rift among the religious leaders brought an outpouring of condemnation by the respective Hindu communities which viewed it as a power struggle between two denominational groups which practice Hinduism differently.
Before this colorful parade, the observance of Phagwah is commenced with special rites and prayers in mandirs on a specific day designated by the Hindu calendar. Devotees attend these services to give thanks and ask for God’s grace and guidance in the year ahead and to remove obstacles. A special folksong from North India Bhojpuri region is the highlight during the service as it is sung only at Phagwah and was passed on by ancestors who sang these folksong door to door in the villages in Guyana. After the service devotees color each other with the dry Holi powder made from rice flour, or cornstarch, talc powder, perfume, water guns or spray bottles filled with colored water.
Seasons are of utmost importance in agrarian societies in order to know when to plough, sow and harvest crops. However spring is joyous celebration of love, hope, and people around the world take time to celebrate the season as winter ends. Each culture engages in different rituals to usher in this lively and colorful season filled with flowers, animals scurrying around, people shedding their coats for lighter clothing and enjoying the outdoors. It is also an extremely important time for Christians as it is associated with the resurrection of Christ, a new beginning. As each person celebrates spring according to their beliefs it is important to appreciate each other’s difference and live in peace and harmony for each tradition is unique and bears important messages for all of us.
Happy Spring to all!