Saturday, March 17, 2018

WAITAKERE HOLI: A FUSION OF PURAB AUR PASCHIM WHERE EAST MEETS WEST


Thakur Ranjit Singh

As the melodious singing of Faag (fagua, chautal) rang and echoed against the green picturesque trees at Corbans Arts Centre, Henderson, Auckland on Sunday 4 March, 2018, it heralded another milestone for Waitakere Indian Association (WIA).

This was like going back to the roots. Corbans Arts Centre is the location where the first public Holi celebrations in New Zealand commenced 12 years ago in 2006, initiated by none other than WIA.
THE EAST:Traditional faag presented by Shri Ram Mandir Faag Mandali, Henderson. The lead singer in the centre with harmonium is the Managing Trustee of Shri Ram Mandir, Pravin Kumar, while his son, Prashant Kumar is playing dholak (drum). This traditional singing of faag or fagua constitutes the main element of Holi for Fiji Indian Hindus.

India in general and Hinduism in particular has given the world some festivals which embrace the whole human race, and has more integrating, unifying and all-embracing themes. They have a message of unity without being founded in divisive, exclusive religious arguments. Holi is one of them. It has profound meaning for mankind and equality for all, promoting and enhancing race relations and integration.

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 associations in New Zealand and has set up new standards of yardsticks and milestones on how to successfully run an association and festivals run by the community, and not commercial media organisations.

It was a milestone this Holi, as WIA listened to public, and did a fusion of traditional and modern Holi celebrations. This is what we call “Sangam” (meeting) of Purab (East) aur Paschim (West) - a meeting place where tradition meets the modern. This was after feedback that Holi celebrations had drifted to modern Bollywood music and dance, overshadowing the traditional folk singing with which Holi is identified. Therefore, WIA was responsive to the community wishes, and held a solid two hour performance by various Mandalis (religious groups).

And that is where East met West. This festival resonated into the meeting of youthful revellers with the mixture of relatively older audience, with a taste of all catered by a well-programmed event.

The traditional faag brought all in the mood to play the colours. Even weather Gods showered their blessings with a lovely weather. Multiracial group of youths crowded the “ringside” stage area to jump to the occasion of dancing to the enthralling music from DJ Manish Gabroo. Young children filled their water guns and water bottles with coloured water and chased each other in the open grounds. They also got hold of coloured powders and had a ball with their families. The older ones smeared each other with coloured powers or gulaal, opening up their usual shyness.


THE WEST:Modern, or western version of Holi celebrations, where we have public dancing on live DJ, ably provided by Manish Sharma (DJ Gabroo) at Waitakere Holi. A large part of those present were non-Indians, and they joined in to resonate the theme of Holi which is about unity and building bridges.
This time, WIA took charge of sale of gulaal, or coloured powders, and nearly sold half a ton of colours. The food stalls did brisk business with an outstanding and above average crowds. 

Another feature of WIA Holi is the increasingly patronage by Anglo-Saxons and non-Indians. One estimate places them at around 40% of the crowd. That is the multicultural pull of the all-encompassing Holi festival. Many non-Indians danced joyfully to tunes of Bollywood music. This was indeed a day of colours, music and fun for the whole families. 

With limited stage items to allow more times for public dancing, we had limited but quality stage items. Of course, WIA functions would be incomplete without the auntie-niece team of Jocelyn Singh and Joshlyn Grace, on thrilling Bollywood numbers

Politicians and community leaders mingled freely with their supporters and, took photos which are now gracing the pages of Facebook.  Among others these included Phil Twyford, Linda Cooper, National List MPs Kanwal Singh Bakshi, Alfred Ngaro and Paramjeet Parmar, Labour’s Michael Wood, Priyanca Radhakrishnan and Barbara Russell with Ami Chand of Portage Licensing Trust, Bhikhu Bhana from NZ Indian Central Association (NZICA), among others. 
The President of WIA Mahendra Sharma welcomed all, especially the multiracial crowd. ‘Now Waitakere Holi Mela has developed into an event not only for Indians but also for wider New Zealand community. Celebrating the festival of colours in our diversely cultural city is seen as a way to continue building better relations with the community. I am deeply honoured by your presence.


Again the theme of Holi is reflected in this photo. No Holi in Fiji is complete without Grog, Kava, or Nagona. Equality is reflected by all coloured in same colours, and National List MP, Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi serving grog. Pictured here, enjoying the Holi mood and atmosphere at Waitakere Holi are: 
From left: Sanjiv Brahmbhatt, CEO of Reliance Ventilation, Manoj Tahal, a Trustee of WIA, Mahendra Sharma, President of WIA, Alfred Ngaro and Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi (List MPs, National Party) and Sunil Kaushal, Holi Project Manager.
Transport and Housing Minister, Phil Twyford stood out as an ardent supporter, and admirer of WIA ‘Waitakere Indian Association is the best managed organisation, very transparent, run by credible people with credible leadership. This event signifying victory of good over evil and equality for mankind is the message we should all emulate, ‘he said, praising the commendable and exemplary events organised by WIA. Other politicians and sponsors also spoke about the great event and the way it has brought good in all of us in the West.

For a migrant community, Indians were praised for integrating 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. 

And this fusion of East and the West made Waitakere Holi that much more memorable. Many are already looking forward to the function next year, so powerful was the addiction and transmission of fun at Corbans Arts Centre in Henderson, Auckland. Thanks WIA for making this possible.
See you next year, if you missed the fun this year.

[About the Author: Thakur Ranjit Singh is a former executive of Waitakere Indian Association and a community worker. He is a media commentator and runs his blog site FIJI PUNDIT]