PHAGWA(Strength in the Faith)

Topic started by Urme (@ on Mon Mar 1 16:26:14 EST 2004.
All times in EST +10:30 for IST.

What is Phagwa

Phagwa is a festival of colourful abeer, pichakaaree, chowtal, dance and joy. Phagwa bands, in earlier years, would parade the streets and visit homes. The location is usually at a mandir or a recreation ground and the celebration runs from early afternoon until late evenings. The activities are usually hosted by religious organisations and no alcoholic drinks are permitted.

Participants take along containers of coloured water to throw on each other. Once one enters a compound designated for Phagwa, one is liable to get soaked by abeer. Abeer comes in an assortment of colours, but mainly in varying hues of red. At the end of the day however, purple is the predominant colour.

Phagwa is a significant time for his young son and other Hindu children. They can identify Prahalad with themselves, relate to him. Children can actually play Prahalad and learn about him.

The legend of Prahalad is the basis of Phagwa and the related festival of Holi.

While Holi, the festival of the harvest, and Phagwa are intricately related, they are not the same.

Holi heralds the beginning of spring and is also known as the festival of color. Phagwa is that aspect of Holi that incorporates singing, dancing and the use of the abeer and powder.

The Phagwa story reads: Long ago there was a king called Hiranyakashipu, who thought himself to be an omnipotent and supreme being; he was the recipient of a divine gift of immortality and believed that he alone was to be worshipped.

The king had a nine-year-old son named Prahalad, who one day witnessed a miracle. A potter woman had prayed, "Ram, Ram, Ram" to save three kittens that had mistakenly been forgotten in a clay pot put to bake. The woman's prayers were answered and God spared the kittens. From that moment, Prahalad started chanting the name of Lord Rama.

This outraged the king, who ordered that his son be killed. The boy was put to death in various ways, but each in vain; he walked away every time chanting, "Ram, Ram, Ram."

The king remembered his sister, who was called Holika. She owned a magic orhni (scarf / mantilla) that allowed the wearer to step into a fire without getting burned. The king ordered Holika to wear the orhni and carry Prahalad into a fiery pit, where the boy would be burnt to ashes.

However, God would again intervene.

A strong breeze blew the orhni off Holika's head and she was the one who burned to ashes while Prahalad was miraculously saved.

An outraged King Hiranyakashipu then decided to kill Prahalad himself.

However, the youngster's faith in God would again triumph. A beast with a man's body and a lion's head appeared and attacked the king. His immortality disappeared and the man-lion tore him limb from limb.

The moral of the story; Prahalad's faith in God saved him; no man is bigger than God.

Phagwa begins with the burning of symbolic Holika, after which the festivities with abeer and pichakaree (instruments used to squirt or "pitch" the abeer) begin. The burning of Holika represents the demise of Prahalad's aunt, while the abeer represents new energy and rebirth, the strength of society.

"We must never allow our faith, belief and strength to be destroyed by the evils of society. Man's life is tested at various times under various circumstances." Phagwa is a time to remember the legend of Prahalad and strengthen one's faith in God, regardless of religion.


Phagwa or Holi is a festival that usually marks the end of winter and the beginning of spring. The all-day celebration, which begins with prayers and culminates with wild spraying of abeer or coloured water, is usually held in an open field attracting both the young and old.

The religious significance of Phagwa lies in the legend of Prahlaad whose father, a powerful king, decided he was more powerful than God and insisted that his son worship him.

Prahlaad refused to do what his father said and was threatened by his father to kill him.

"But he was saved by God. That's why the theme of Phagwa is always 'good over evil,'"

Phagwa locally is celebrated much different to India's version of the festival.

"Here, the festival is more organised. In India, it is more spontaneous. They also don't have children's Phagwa in India."

The festival usually attracts people by the truckloads in celebration. And, as evening falls, men and women can be seen mounting the stage to give their opinion on topical local issues in song.

The spraying of the abeer or coloured water from a pichakaree - or type of syringe - on unsuspecting patrons remains the most enjoyable part of the festival. The abeer represents the colours of spring,and is usually done one day after the burning of Holika or demon lady.

"No one escapes the spraying of the abeer". Put on something old and just come out.

Here are some helpful tips for attending Phagwa celebrations.


•Attend a venue that is alcohol free.
•Take along some of your own abeer and gulal, which is available at Indian shops.
•Park away from the immediate vicinity of Phagwa-play to protect one's vehicle.
•Leave a towel in your car for drying skin.
•Place a piece of plastic on your car seats.
•Wear soft shoes.
•One may wear a hat or head wrap.
•Protect ears with a piece of cotton wool.


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