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Phagwah Celebrations in Guyana (Holi)

First Published: 28th of March, 2021 by Patrick Carpen.

Last updated: December 15, 2022 at 17:12 pm

In Guyana, South America, Phagwah is known as the festival of colors. Although of East Indian and Hindu origin, the celebration of Phagwah in Guyana is a national holiday which is celebrated by Guyanese of all races, classes, and religions. During the morning, buckets of water are used to drench one another, while in the afternoon, colored powders are dabbed and sprinkled on friends, and colored water is sprayed using a “water gun.”

The word “Phagwah” is an expression unique to the South American countries of Guyana and Suriname. Phagwah is actually the name given in these two countries to “Day 2” of a sixteen-day “Holi” celebration in East Indian Hindu Tradition. The Festival of Holi begins with the burning of Holika which signifies the burning to death of an evil demon, Holika, in Hinduism.

While the Hindu community in Guyana perhaps celebrates the entire sixteen day Holi Festival, the majority of Guyanese of all races and classes only celebrate Day 2 of the Holi Festival which is uniquely named “Phagwah” in Guyana and is also a national holiday. In Guyana, the national holiday of Phagwah sees the closure of schools and businesses. On occasions where Phagwah falls on a weekend day such as Saturday or Sunday, the following Monday is given as a day off for schools and businesses.

While the celebration of Phagwah has its roots in the Hindu Religion of East Indian culture, in Guyana, the holiday takes on national significance instead of a religious or racial significance. Guyanese of all races, classes, and religions partake in the “Phagwah games” which include splashing with water in the mornings and staining with colored water and powders in the afternoon. The activities are seen as unifying act that binds Guyanese of all races and religions into one happy, friendly, and united people.

Today, I pray the colours of love, peace, and happiness fill our hearts and our lives as we celebrate the ancient Hindu ‘festival of colours’ – Holi. This blend of beautiful colours represents the richness of our cultural diversity and the promise of a brighter tomorrow.

Arya Ali – First Lady of Guyana – 28th of march, 2021
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