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.)

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