Daily Archives: 03/12/2011

Call it Phagwa, or call it Holi

Call it Phagwa, or call it Holi, it’s Festival Time Again

By: Latchman Kissoon

Let us sing together

Spring is coming

Spring is coming

Birdies build your nest

Heep together straw and feather

And let nature do the rest

The season of spring is upon us and even the birds, bees and seeds will come to life.  On the 20th day of March, 2011 lovers of nature and culture will join millions of Hindus around the world in celebrating the festival of Phagwa or Holi in style pomp and pageantry.

The most colourful festival in India, Phagwa or Holi has been celebrated for over 5,000 years and was brought to the Caribbean by East Indians some 160 years ago.

It is widely celebrated in Guyana, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago and the beautiful Island of Barbados where there is a small Hindu community. It became so popular in Guyana that it was declared a public holiday about 40 years ago.  In 2003, over fifty thousand (50,000) people flocked to a park in New York, in picnic style to celebrate the festival.

Phagwa is an outdoor festival and is an occasion for all, irrespective of race, creed or religious beliefs. It is nature in all its glory.

The significance of Phagwa or Holi is threefold. Firstly, it commemorates the beginning of the Hindu New Year, which falls officially this year on March 20. Secondly, It ushers in the spring season. This is the time when every one looks forward to the enjoyment of outdoor life when the fields are cleaned – the old leaves and shrubs are burnt in preparation for a bountiful harvest.

Prayers are therefore offered to Lord Vishu for good health for the farmers and fertility of the soil. A symbolic burning is done of a holika the night before the actual celebration.

The burning of the holika is accompanied by all-night singing. The third significance of the Holi festival is that it depicts triumph of good over evil. Whenever there is victory, no matter how small, the people will celebrate and Phagwa is no exception.

People dance, sing and spray each other with abir (a pink coloured liquid) and they dust each other with powder either to symbolise the different colours of spring or the defeat of a wicked king as told in an old story.

In Sat Yuga ot the Golden Age, King Kashyap and Queen Aditi had two sons named Hiranyakashipu and Hiranyaksh, and an only daughter called Dhundhulie (Holi).

Hiranyakashipu performed meditation and penance at the feet of Brahma, the creator of the universe. Consequently, Brahma appeared before Hinmyakashipu and requested him to ask for a boon. Hiranyakashipu requested from Brahma the boon that he should be killed by neither the devtas, man, god, or animals, neither should he be killed during the day nor the night; nor should he be killed in a building nor outside of it; and neither should he be killed by any weapon.

Without hesitation, Brahma granted this difficult boon upon Hiranyakashipu. Obtaining such a boon and filled with pride, Hiranyakashipu returned to his kingdom.

During the absence of Hiranyakashipu his wife remained under the protection of the sage Narad who imparted to her the Kathas (teachings) of Vishnu Bhagwan.

Prahalad, the unborn child of Hiranyakashipu learnt everything about Lord Vishnu in his mother’s womb.

On the other hand, Hiranyakashipu, endowed with that mighty boon, began to terrorise the devtas, and instead, asked that he be adored as Vishnu.

When Prahalad grew up he refused to accept that his father, Hiranyakashipu, was God but he projected in the minds of friends that Lord Vishnu was God.

For this Prahalad underwent many cruel forms of torture and punishments, most outstanding of which was his aunt Dhundhulie (Holi) taking him and sitting on a lighted pyre thinking that, because of her boon, he would be burnt to ashes and she would be saved. This resulted in the reverse where she was burnt to ashes and Prahalad was saved.

The incarnation of Lord Vishnu in his Narsingh (half man and half lion) form destroyed Hiranyakashipu. After Dhunhulie (Holi) was burnt to ashes Prahalad remained there playing with the ashes and glorifying Lord Vishnu. From then on Dhundhulie was known as Holika. Phagwa is declared when an image of Holika is made and burnt on full moon night in the month of Phagwa (March) at midnight.

When Lord Vishnu appeared as Narsingh Bhagwan he held Hiranyakashipu on his lap and took him under the eave of the building. It was twilight and he ripped open the chest of Hiranyakashipu with his claws.

Thus, Phagwa or Holi has its oprigin from Sat Yuga. The coloured powder used represents the ashes of the burnt body of Holika and the abir represents the blood that flowed from the body of Hiranyakashipu.


Dr. Latchman Kissoon is an Attorney-at-law, Secretary of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha, Outgoing President of The Barbados Inter-Religious Organization and Founder of the Red Om Society.

Telephone:  1-246-428-4595    Facsimile:   1-246-420-5641

PDF Copy here: Phagwa by Latchman Kissoon