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Phagwa or Holi

The observance of Phagwa, or Holi as we also call it, was introduced to Trinidad and Tobago by indentured East Indian labourers around 1845.

This is a spring festival that takes place during the months of March and April.  It is primarily a Hindu festival, but as with all observances in our multi-ethnic, multi-religious country, the wider community always gets involved - even if it is to just watch and admire.

The root of Holi is derived from the Sanskrit word Holika, meaning, "parched grains."  This festival has deep religious significance as a rite of purification to promote good health.

There are many Hindu texts that explain the significance of Phagwa.  One story tells of Prahalad, son of the evil King Hiranyakashipu.  The King wanted desperately to destroy the young boy and enlisted the aid of his equally evil sister Holika.  Holika had powers that rendered her immune to destruction by fire.  The King ordered her to take the boy into a large fire to end his life, but the child's faith was so great that not only was he unharmed, but Holika's powers were reduced and she burned in the fire.  Today's observance of Phagwa incorporates aspects of this story and an effigy of Holika is burnt as a symbol of purification.

Other aspects of the festival include lots of joyful singing and dancing.  A Carnival-like atmosphere pervades as willing participants are sprayed with a variety of coloured dyes.  You can hear the strains of special folk songs called Chowtal being sung, accompanied by two instruments - the Dholak, a small hand drum and Majeera, percussive instruments.  The music is fast-paced and extremely infectious, making you want to take part in the joy-filled revelry.

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