Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Waitakere Holi of New Zealand:Universal Message of Holi is brotherhood and equality of mankind

Universal Message of Holi: Brotherhood and equality of mankind

A journey into memory-lane of Holi at Rarawai, Ba Fiji

Thakur Ranjit Singh, Auckland, New Zealand

Holi's message of victory of good over evil is universal: the evil aunt Holika burns while the devotee child Prahlad escapes the fire through blessings and miracle of Lord Vishnu.
Waitakere Indian Association (WIA) is the award-winning organisation, which has been run by like-minded volunteers from 2000. It is the pride of Indian association in New Zealand and has set up new standards of yardsticks and milestones on how to successfully run an association. This is the organisation which gave public celebration of Diwali a new dimension in Aotearoa. People may not know, but it was WIA which started the public celebrations of Holi in 2005 at Te Atatu South, and a bigger one at Corban Arts Centre in 2006 and then upsizing and moving over to new venue at Trusts Stadium Grounds from 2007 onwards. And rest is History as WIA Holi has been an icon of Waitakere and West Auckland.

Faag Gayan ( Holy group hymns singing) is a unique feature of Indo-Fijian Holi celebration in group singing we call Mandalis. These type of Mandalis have been formed throughout Indo-Fijian Diaspora, including New Zealand, Australia, USA and Canada. This is one of the highlights of Waitakere Holi.
This year is no exception. Waitakere Holi will be held on Sunday 15 March, 2015 at Trust Stadium Grounds from 1pm  to 5pm, with usual highlights of live DJ Music, dancing in the park, food stalls, colours on sale and special set up for public playing of colours in open grounds with diversity heralded by rainbow of colours, marking all as one people.

Maori Affairs Minister, Dr Peter Sharples, with his wife, enjoying the colours of Holi at Trusts Stadium Grounds at Waitakere Holi some years ago.
Last month we marked Basant Panchmi, the day on which Holika is erected. We also call this Saraswati Puja and falls on fifth day of Magha (in early February) marking the start of spring and the Holi season. On this day Hindus worship Saraswati Devi, the goddess of knowledge, music, art and culture. We Hindus also mark this as beginning of Holi and erect the pyre Holika on this night. It is nice to see our Indian Diaspora celebrating wherever we are settled. Our culture, traditions and celebrations will be on display to the new generations, who otherwise may have forgotten their roots and heritage. Congratulations, well done, WIA, for introducing and initiating public Holi community celebration in New Zealand. New Zealand is thankful to WIA for its community-organised events. Holi is just one of them.

Some veteran stalwarts of Waitakere Indian Association- people behind origin of public Holi celebrations in Auckland, New Zealand since 2005. From left: RONEEL SINGH, MAHENDRA SHARMA,  SONAR CHAND, ANAND NAIDU, THAKUR RANJIT SINGH, MANOJ TAHAL and SUNIL CHANDRA.
With the debate raging around the world, particularly in Europe and Britain, about integration and multiculturalism, Indian migrants in general and Indo-Fijian Diaspora in particular have been leading in a small way in promoting national identity. This they are doing in rapidly changing multi-ethnic countries like Canada, USA, Australia and of course New Zealand where they have settled.

India in general and Hinduism in particular have given the world some festivals which embrace the whole human race, and has more integrating and unity  significance and meaning without being founded in divisive religious arguments. Holi is one of them. Holi festival has profound meaning for mankind and equality for all. Holi festival, among others, promotes and enhances race relations and integration.
Woh Din Yaad karo-Those were the days. Group or Mandali of Shree Sanatan Dharm Ramayan Prem Faag Mandali of author Thakur, from Rarawai, Golflinks, Ba, Fiji, This photo dates back to perhaps two decades, and some in the photo have passed away. Standing on extreme left, Vijendra Prasad 9in cap) and Hari Singh, respectively are no longer with us today.But this group, or Mandali has been existing since 1950s and still intact with some four generations spanning it. 
Well, you may ask, what is the history and origin of Holi. Let me enlighten you, especially the Kiwi-born new generation. The festival of Holi is celebrated on the day after the full moon around March every year. Indo Fijians, especially those from rural Fiji, will recall we used to sing “fagua”, “faag” or “chautaal” and this is one “fagua” we used to sing at Rarawai Bhavan (religious meeting house) in Ba, on the full-moon night the Holika is set on fire:

When you come to Waitakere Holi, you are sure to be part of the dancing crowd, so enchanting is the atmosphere. Here, in one of the Waitakere Holi celebrations at Trusts Stadium grounds, Thakur Ranjit Singh accepts a challenge from Michael in a duel of Holi dance, joined by others with others.
“…Phagun ki Chandni raat rahegi yaad mujhe….”  (I will always remember and cherish this moonlit night of the month of Phagun)

Phagun ki chandni Raat rahegi yaad mujhe--I cannot forget the full moon night of  the month of Phagun, as Holika is put on fire on this night. This is what Mandalis like this sing. Here, Parupkaar Ramayan Faag Mandali is singing Faag at Waitakere Holi, with lead singer, Dewa Chaudhry on harmonium.
Originally a festival to celebrate good harvests and fertility of the land, Holi is now a symbolic commemoration of a legend from Hindu Mythology. Literally "Holi" signifies "burning" in Indian language. But, how it came to be associated with ‘burning’ is a story. The reference is found only in ancient Indian mythology. And it is the legend of King Hirnakasyap to whom the celebration of Holi is associated. 

The symbol of Holi- Holika burns while the devoted child is saved with the grace of God.
The story centres on this arrogant King Hirnakasyap who resents his son Prahlad worshipping Lord Vishnu. He attempts to kill his son but fails each time. Finally, the king's sister Holika who is said to be immune to burning sits with the boy in a huge fire. However, it was the will of God that truth and good triumphs over lies and evil. Prince Prahlad emerges unscathed, while his aunt burns to death. Holi commemorates this event from mythology, and huge bonfires are burnt on the eve of Holi as its symbolic representation.

This is well depicted by the famous “fagua” we sing around the Holi bonfire on that full moon night

Lagi aag jab beech chita mein Holika rudan machaai- when fire raged in the pyre, evil Holi started to wail and cry, but the Lord's loved one, child Prahalad was saved.
“…Hirnakush buddhi nasai, chita banwaai…Badhi aag jab beech chita mein Holika rudan machai…”  (Hirnakush has lost his head, gone insane and built this pyre (chita)... when the fire raged in the pyre, Holika, his sister, started shouting and crying)

Like Diwali, Holi also passes a similar message to mankind: Victory of Good over Evil and Life over Death. That is what exactly Holi signifies. The use of coloured water and powder are intended to colour all people in one colour, so it transcends race, colour and creed to signify equality of human race.

Hail, rain or thunder, the dance in the park goes on. In last year's Holi, dance in the park converted to Rain Dance once it started raining. So , come prepared to enjoy yourselves at Waitakere Holi
Today Holi is an excuse for Indians to shed inhibitions, and caste differences for a day of spring fever and Big Fun, and show that despite our differences, we are all one in the eyes of God, hence the colours of Holi. We adopt a general sense of abandoned vitality, when as children, during Holi, we used to chase our village Bhabhis into their kitchen to colour them with colours of holi.  No wonder, even the old ones join in the fun, and thus this “chutkula” or a small fun-fagua song:

Waitakere Indian Association, with its festivals have been able to allow an opportunity for diverse people to integrate through music, dance, festivals and cultural events. Hence, irrespective of race or religion, you are invited to this free event to have fun. in the park.
“….Phagun bhar Baba devar laage..." (During month of Phagun, even father-in-laws are like friends and brother-in-laws, okay for jokes and pranks)

Our people have integrated well into the local community and changed the cultural landscape of the country. Today, Aotearoa is richer because of Indians in general and Hindus in particular for introducing diversity with festivals like Holi, Diwali and other religious, cultural and social events. Thanks to organisers –WIA in particular, for this opportunity of Fagua and celebrations of merrymaking.
This is what you call Ranjhalla - unlimited fun, so come along, and have fun. A shot of last year's event when the audience invaded the stage in their zeal and passion of dancing to thrilling music provided by live DJ.
See you all at the original Holi festivals, one of few community–organised Holi festivals at Trusts Stadium Grounds, Sunday 15 March, 2015 from 1pm to 7pm. See you there and come prepared to be coloured and dancing in the park.

Happy Ho...Ho… Ho...Holi… to all.

(The author, Thakur Ranjit Singh is from village of Rarawai, in Ba, Fiji and looks fondly at those memories and reasons behind Holi, how Waitakere Indian Association has made a difference to public festivals. He is a blogger (FIJI PUNDIT) and media commentator.)

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Labasa Secondary School (LSS) - Reunion of Class of 1966

The Labasa Reunion in Auckland: When Krishn, Sudama, Rukmini and other classmates met - and all laughed and cried together.

Thakur Ranjit Singh

The originators, project initiators and drivers of Project Labasa. KRISHN LAL  (left) and  the engine room of ideas, USHA SUBRAIL  (middle). On the right, with a helping hand is NIRLA
As Usha Subrail and Krishn Lal stood at the lectern of Amora Hotel, Auckland, New Zealand on 22nd February, 2014, it indeed was a historical moment and event. They were there to introduce the occasion - a milestone of assembling most of the left-over classmates of the then Labasa Secondary School’s (LSS) class of 1966. It was an event after almost half-a century. A salute to these two Project leaders/coordinators of Project Labasa.

The Class of 1966 - Form 5 Students-STANDING; L-R: Nirmala Nand, Nirla Sanat Pandey,Usha Subrail, Kushma Prasad, Sitla Bhimdeo, Sahira and Neermati Chandra.
STANDING: L-R: Jai Karan, Vasu Maharaj, Rai Mati Bihari, Laxmi Narayan Puran, Uma Kanti Kumari, Catain Ambika Prasad, Vinod Kumar, Vinod Pala, Krishn Lal, Maha Lingam, Thakur Gulabdas, Ajit Swaran Singh and Shiu Goundar.
It took only a small flame from a lady with a desire to do something “to keep her occupied in her retirement” that made a difference. That is Usha Subrail of Melbourne, a student of Form 5 at the then Labasa Secondary School’s class of 1966 (now Labasa College). That spark from Usha grew into a bonfire of friendship six months later in Auckland on the weekend of 21/22 February, 2014. She has shared her thoughts with another classmate in Melbourne, Krishn Lal, and together they laid the foundation and built it into a reunion forty eight years on. It took hard work and six months of intense planning.

The kind and generous host and hostess of informal evening on Friday night: MASTER RAM BIHARI, and Teacher RAI MATI.
The group met at Master Ram Bihari and Rai Mati’s residence in Te Atatu South, Auckland on Friday 21 February, 2014 for informal chit-chat and nostalgic music that took them back in time. A classmate, Nirmal Singh (Nivis Motors), who was present of Friday, could not make it to the Saturday programme. A more formal program was organised on Saturday 22 February at Auckland CBD, where yours truly (Thakur) was present to take photos and do a media coverage of the event.

It was a very cordial atmosphere, with warmth supplemented by one of Auckland’s warmest nights with temperatures hovering around 27 degrees. Usha and Krishn gave words of introduction and briefed on the culmination of the big event, and their trials and tribulations in coming this far. Judge Ajit Swaran Singh moved words of welcome to the memorable function, and reminded all that while from a small town in Vanua Levu, the friendly north people have big hearts. And that was evident in this event. This was followed by Kushma Prasad with her joyful song. The quiz mistress Usha (Aaap kitna jantey hai, Na Kila Kila mada) kicked off with questions about LSS, such as when... was the lunch hour (12.20 -1pm), which was assembly day (Monday) who were English teachers  (Usman Ali and Mrs McKay) and who was the famous tennis player (Sarwan Singh)

PUNDIT VASU MAHARAJ with good wife, KUSUM MAHARAJ. He paid tribute to departed friends and the shradhaanjali brought tears to many eyes.

Pundit Vasu Maharaj of Brisbane brought tears when he took us on a sentimental journey and paid tribute to classmates who have passed away, and they included some 14 pupils, many of them unfortunately passed away at relatively young age of around 50s.  Sitla Bhimdeo, very appropriately, rendered a sentimental old number about meeting and departing...”Aadmi musafir hai, aata hai jaata hai.....”  (Human being are mere travellers, who come and go, but in doing so, they leave us with memories) This memorable sentimental number literally brought tears to many eyes, with the thoughts of and tributes to departed friends. My Guruji from DAV College, Ba, Pundit Sanat Pande and wife Nirla Pande, who is part of the class of 1966, showed their combined singing partnership. They sang a melodious Mehndi Hasan ghazal in duet form... Zindgi ki rahon mein, takra gaya koi. (We bumped into somebody on the journey of our life). That happened with so many of them. 

Beautiful couple with many specialties and abilities. One on display during the night was their singing ability when they rendered a Mehndi Hasan ghazal which they sang as duet. PUNDIT SANAT PANDEY AND NIRLA PANDEY.
Nirmala Nand from Palmerston North, New Zealand could not leave things half-done, so she completed it by singing a song that leaves everything half completed...” aadha hai chandrama, raat aadhi, reh naa jaye teri meri baat aadhi, mulaqaat aadhi.. (The moon is half, so is the night (midnight); we hope our talks and union does not stay half-completed.) 

With half-eaten appetizer is the lady who sang that song depicting all things half...adha hai chandrama, raat aadhi, NIRMALA NAND (right) with her husband Sada Nand. So intense was the desire to meet old mates that they drove some six hours from Palmerston North  (near Wellington) to attend the function
Well the union of Labasians did not remain half. Jai and Uma Karan from Sydney, took it forward and gave a not so old duet from Laawaris...kab ke bichre huye hum... bichre Fiji se aa ke Auckland me mile.. (Long separated people have at last met after so long separated from Fiji but met in Auckland). Lyrics were slightly modified to reflect the reality and sentiments of the occasion. This song very aptly summed up emotions and feelings of classmates and friends who have been separated for some five decades.

Some untold stories and secrets also came out. Three students from Labasa Secondary School of those days took part in an unauthorised bicycle race in Miss Labasa Festival and they happened to have won. Brian Simmons, the famous soccer player was first, while a classmate present in the function, Captain Ambika Prasad came second, followed by Girja Prasad in the third position.

Poet NIRLA PANDEY , who penned the poetry titled Kal, Aaj aur Kal. The poet who took her classmates back in time with a memorable iece, depicting the history and different phases of student life at LSS in 1966
Nirla Pande displayed her aptitude of being a poet (apart from being a beautiful ‘young” grandmother) with her beautiful delivery of a poetry very aptly titled “Kal, aaj aur kal” (Yesterday, today and tomorrow). The lyrical poem covered various facets of school life, events, happenings, nostalgic experiences, some sadness, some fun stories, the secrets, the nickname of teachers, all the mischievous habits of various students, some forgotten history and secrets. This was an emotional, tear-jerking as well as fun-filled powerhouse of an item very ably and beautifully presented. She very appropriately ended her deliver with a message...Kabhi alvida na kehna...(Never say goodbye), because plans are already in place for a reunion of that reunion in Fiji in 2016. 
Saheli, bhool na jana (Dear friend, please do not forget me) The unity and friendship that was evident in the function. The binding hands of two friends further extend the monogram of LSS. Close friends, SITLA BHIMDEO (left) and UMA KANTI KARAN
As we came close to the tail end, the floor was open for a trip down the memory lane where the classmates respectively told the untold stories, sang the unsung songs of those days, funny tales, all the nicknames and some secrets. There were tears, there was laughter, and there was pin drop silence on occasions, but all of these have been bundled in a parcel of yaadein - memories that would be unwrapped by these long lost friends in their moments of loneliness when they part.

A proud moment was when four soccer veterans present in the function were acknowledged for their feat over four decades ago. They were instrumental in bringing the 1968 IDC Secondary School trophy to little Labasa from Namosau Park (now Govind Park), Ba. These players are Captain Ambika Prasad (Fiji), Pundit Vasu Maharaj (Brisbane), Jai Karan (Sydney) and Vinod Kumar (Wellington)

The soccer veterans now, but heroes of 1968 LSS IDC team members who brought the IDC Secondary School trophy from Govind Park , Ba to Labasa.  Enjoying each others company with a few bilos, from left, PUNDIT VASU MAHARAJ, CAPTAIN AMBIKA PRASAD ( former Air Pacific 747 pilot and Captain), Vinod Kumar and Jai Karan
One of the Project managers, Krishn Lal told FIJI PUNDIT that the trouble was worth the effort, as there were many rewards. “On a personal level it was emotional and nostalgic. But what was even more pleasing to note was the level of attachment to each other- throughout the two days it felt that we had not left each other in the last 48 years; even more surprising was how well the spouses of classmates became part of the class of 1966 - I personally felt that I had known them all their lives! I was left with this feeling of being a part of a unique group of people who had kept in touch despite time and living in different places: age and distance could not stop them from reconnecting because deep down they cared for each other (as they had done in 1966) and they looked forward to the Reunion to renew their close association’ said an emotional Krishn.

The general friendly and cordial atmosphere evident on a very warm evening in Auckland.
 Comradeship was evident during the evening programme.
These classmates who attended the reunion are spread in different parts of Australia, New Zealand and Fiji. They were from Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Wellington, Palmerston North, Fiji, and of course the host city, Auckland. We are informed that these classmates carried on their union at Amora Hotel till 4am in the morning where all recalled their past life at school and indulged in small talks of those gone-by days.

Enjoying the company of friends; (from left) NEERMATI  and PUNDIT SURESH CHANDRA, and SHIU and VIJAY GOUNDAR.
The farewell that morning was in the theme of what Nirla Pande has reminisced in her Aaj, kal aur kal poem, never say goodbye...kabhi alvida na kehna ...as they parted with the hope of meeting again. And that meeting is planned tentatively for Vanua Levu, maybe Labasa or Savu Savu in 2016 where they hope to attract the larger number of class of 1966. God bless the friendship of Classmates so well reunited in Auckland, New Zealand.
Perhaps in their celebrative mood, nobody thought of this song which may have fittingly erupted from the departing tears of long lost friends...Koi lauta de mere beete huye din.....(Please somebody, return my gone-by days...)..So long---till these Labasians meet again in two years time.



[About the author: Thakur Ranjit Singh is a journalist and media commentator and a student of Sanat Pandey, who is husband of a Classmate of 1966, Nirla Pandey. Thakur, apart from local and overseas writings, runs his blog site FIJI PUNDIT, accessible at www.fijipundit.blogspot.co.nz.]