By Jasminee Sahoye.
Hindus here and around the world will celebrate Holi or Phagwah, the festival of colours on Monday March 17. It is also known as the spring festival.
In countries like Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago, the festival was introduced by Indian indentured labourers, who worked on the sugar plantations more than 150 years ago. Due to the multicultural mix of people, the wider community gets involved in the festival, even if, it is to watch and admire.
In the GTA, a number of Mandirs across will host special events. One such, is the Vishnu Mandir, headed by Guyana-born Dr. Budhendranauth Doobay, which will hold its’ annual Holi Mela on Sunday, March 16 at the mandir.
Holi is a joyous celebration of going to the street in big groups, smearing each other with bright coloured powders and water, without regard to social status such as caste, race, or sex. People exchange greetings, young people pay respect to the elders by sprinkling some colours on their feet, elders distribute money and sweets. The festival would not be complete without chowtal singing.
The day before Holi, bonfires are lit at night of the full moon on street corners to symbolize the destruction of the wicked Holika, and to cleanse the air of evil spirits and bad vibes.
There are many stories about the origins of Holi. A popular one, originates from “Holika”, the evil sister of demon King Hiranyakashipu. He had earned a boon that made him virtually indestructible. The special powers blinded him, he grew arrogant, felt he was God, and demanded that everyone worship only him.
According to the story, Hiranyakashipu’s son, Prahlada disagreed. He was and remained devoted to Lord Vishnu. This infuriated Hiranyakashipu. He subjected Prahlada to cruel punishments, none of which affected the boy or his resolve to do what he thought was right.
Finally, Holika – Prahlada’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 Prahlada was not. As the fire roared, the cloak flew from Holika and encased Prahlada. Holika burned, Prahlada survived. Vishnu appeared and killed Hiranyakashipu.
The bonfire is a reminder of the symbolic victory of good over evil, of Prahlada over Hiranyakashipu, of fire that burned Holika. The day after Holika bonfire is celebrated as Holi.