Phagwah, also known as Holi, the Festival of Love, and the Festival of Colors is a Hindu holiday. One of the things I love about Guyana is they adopt everyone’s holidays as their own. The whole country celebrates certain traditions, while leaving the religious aspects to those of the religion.
I’ve heard varying stories of the significance and background of Phagwah, but they all boil down to good over evil and celebrating love and forgiveness. The colors represent the love- so the more colorful the better.
Phagwah is celebrated over several days, first they have a bonfire to symbolize defeating evil. This is where one of the background stories comes in. According to Hindu tradition an evil (some say demon) king was trying to have his people worship him instead of one of their gods. His son (some versions I heard just sais a boy) still worshipped the god and so the king ordered a woman (some say his sister and some refer to her as a witch) that could supposedly withstand fire (some stories even say she could cause herself to spontaneously combust and not burn others just ealk into the fire) to bring the boy in to burn. But the boy survived and the woman died. Some stories also attribute this night to a celebration of the story about the death of a woman who tried to poison one of their gods when he was baby. Some of them rub ash’s from the fire the next morning.
Technically the next day is when they bless you with the colors – but a lot of people start before the bonfire here and the colors go for days.
Basically it turns into a national celebration of love and happiness. While the colors traditionally are meant to be rubbed on you, like a blessing, it sometimes devolves into something similar to a snowball (just paint powder instead of snow)/ water gun fight.
There is something about it that overtakes you, the whole country united celebrating. Something intrinsically beautiful about the experience.It was almost like a wave of joy washed over the nation, washed over us. I’m so happy to have gotten to participate, even if my skin is a little stained. 🙂