Get swept away in the colors of the Holi Guyana festival, which occurs during springtime in March. This year, it takes place on March 7. Holi is a Hindu festival brought to Guyana by Indian settlers in the 19th century. It has been adopted into Guyana culture and is celebrated by all religions and people, with its date set following the Hindu calendar and customs. To most Guyanese people, Holi is synonymous with fun and includes partying and throwing colored water and powdered paint on each other.
History of Holi Guyana
In Hinduism, Holi celebrates life, spring, and overcoming the odds. It has multiple origin stories, with one associating it with agriculture, deeming it a nonreligious, springtime festival honoring rebirth, fertility, and new life. The water thrown around symbolizes the fertile growth of crops, while the colored paint represents the grain tossed around in traditional festivities.
The more popular origin story stems from a myth with multiple variations. One version features King Hiranyakashipu of Multan, who the gods made invincible, abusing his authority. He was convinced he was a god and demanded his people worship in his name. However, his son, Prince Prahlada, opposed him, believing his father was merely a human being. Of course, such blatant disrespect could not go unpunished. The king devised a plan involving his sister, Holika, who also had powers. Because she could withstand fire without harm, he built a massive fire and ordered Prince Prahlada to sit on his aunt’s lap, expecting the boy to meet a fiery end. With no choice but to obey the king, Prince Prahlada went into the fire but miraculously escaped unhurt. His aunt, however, disappeared and was never seen again. According to this legend, the colored paint represents Holika’s ashes, and the word ‘Holi’ is said to come from ‘Holika.’
The festival was brought to Guyana in the 19th century by Indian settlers who came as indentured servants or laborers. Their descendants turned the celebration into a uniquely Guyanese one that merges with other local cultural elements. Indian folk songs sound near temples or Indian places of worship, and ‘sweetmeats’ — traditional Indian vegetarian sweets — and revelry are very common during Holi and the days leading up to it. Most Guyanese people find themselves celebrating by devouring sweetmeats, savoring Indian curry, or dressing in Indian attire.
Holi Guyana timeline
Famous Indian poet Kālidāsa writes about the Holi festival in a poem, ‘Kumarasambhava,’ and play, “Mālavikāgnimitram.”
The mass migration of Indians, spurred by the political unrest and various natural disasters in India, begins.
Indians emigrate to Trinidad and Tobago, introducing their culture and festivals, such as Holi.
The National Council of Indian Culture (N.C.I.C.) hosts the first international virtual Holi conference in Trinidad, with researchers from Suriname, India, Trinidad and Tobago, South Africa, Fiji, the United States, Mauritius, Jamaica, and Guyana presenting their findings in various panels.
Holi Guyana FAQs
Who celebrates Phagwah?
While Hindus were the ones to traditionally celebrate Holi, the sharing of cultures means no religion is restricted from this festival. Phagwah is celebrated in Guyana, Suriname, and any country with an Indian population. It is also known as Holi in India.
What is the difference between Holi and Dhulandi?
Dhulandi is part of a two-day Holi celebration in parts of India and is celebrated the day after the festival. It marks the beginning of spring.
Are Holi and Phagwah the same?
They’re the same, but celebrations vary slightly across nations. Holi is known as ‘Phagwah’ in certain parts of the world.
Holi Guyana Activities
Make your own sweetmeat
If you’ve got a sweet tooth or simply want to try some authentic Indian sweets, why not try making them yourself? Pick from a wide variety of sweetmeats typically made during Holi in Guyana, including gulab jamun, mithai, prasad, vermicelli cake, fudge, jalebi, sugar cake, and tamarind cake.
Join the local Indo-Guyanese for their Holi celebrations. There are bonfires, food, drinks, dancing, singing, powder paint, and colored water. It’s sure to be a fun time!
Get the real experience
If you can, why not visit Guyana in March? Join the fun, and have a colorful experience with the locals.
5 Colorful Facts About Holi In Guyana
It goes by another name in Guyana
Because Holi was said to be celebrated in spring — specifically in the spring month of ‘Phagun,’ according to the Hindu calendar — Guyanese people commonly call Holi ‘Phagwah.’
Holi celebrations actually begin almost 40 days before the festival in what the Indo-Guyanese call ‘pre-Phagwah’ days when they sing special folk songs called ‘chowtals,’ put on public performances, and plant symbolic trees.
The castor-oil plant
They traditionally plant the castor-oil plant, which is then ceremoniously burned on Holi’s eve to celebrate the victory of good over evil.
It’s a national holiday
Making up around 40% of the nation’s population, the Indo-Guyanese are the largest ethnic population in Guyana and have greatly influenced its cultures and festivals, leading to the declaration of Holi as a national holiday.
Holi, Christmas, Diwali, Eid, Hosay, and Easter are all festivals commonly celebrated by the Indo-Guyanese, regardless of their religious beliefs.
Why We Love Holi Guyana
We love the Holi-day
Who doesn’t love a holiday, especially one that celebrates colors? Holi Guyana is especially favored, as the traditional festival is now more of a cultural trademark that bonds every Guyanese in shared revelry.
It has a significant impact on Guyanese culture
To the Guyanese, Holi is more than a traditional Hindu festival. Most locals participate in this riot of colors, enjoying the festival without class, religious, or social barriers.
Holi has sentimental value too
The festival is a favored childhood remembrance for many people who woke up to the sounds of laughter and splashing water. The celebrations invited every child to the fun, and the tradition continued beyond childhood.
Holi Guyana dates