All communities in the world have their own fairs and festivals which reflect not only their religious and social traditions, but they are also means to express their joy and jubilation. Some of them have their roots in religion and mythology, and others have their social and cultural significance.
Holi is regarded as festival of colours, folksongs and dances. In Fiji, we did not have the same kind of fervour and masti in recent years, as we experienced two or three decades back. Nevertheless, it is still celebrated by Fiji Indians in all parts of Fiji but with more enthusiasm in those rural areas where Ramayan Mandlies are established.
Many stories are associated with the origin of Holi. The most popular legend is about the king Hirnaykashyap, his sister, Holika and his God-fearing son, Prahlad. The king wanted everybody in his kingdom to worship him but Prahlad refused to do so because he believed that there was only one God and He is not his father. His father became angry and gave instructions to Holika to prepare a pyre to kill Prahlad by burning him alive. Holika was an evil woman. The blazing fire that was set to burn Prahlad took the life of Holika. By God's blessing, Prahlad was saved.
From time immemorial, this episode is being considered a triumph of faith and conviction over evil and viciousness, a victory of righteousness over wickedness.
Another one is about Radha and Krishna and their romantic episodes. Radha had fair complexion and Krishna was dark. One day he asked his mother, Yashoda, why he was dark and Radha was very fair. The mother jokingly asked him to select a colour that could darken her skin and advised him to apply it on her face. Acting on his mother's advice, he selected a colour of his choice, approached Radha quietly and put it on her face so that she became of the same colour as he. Perhaps, since then, playing with colours on the day of Holi became the tradition.
Other stories are also associated with it including the Kamadeva myth and Dhundhi tale.
In Fiji, most of our songs, sung during Holi season are called phaag gaaian. Phagan, also written as Phalgan, is the last month of the Indian calendar. Phaag and Phagua are its derivatives. The month of phagan marks the advent of spring and ripening of crops in Northern India. Not only it is a season of romance and excitement, folk songs and dances, it is also an occasion of playing with powder, perfumes and colours. Interestingly, there are thousands of songs on the theme of love-relationship between Radha and Krishna, which are sung during the Holi season. In the following lyric, translated from Bhojpuri, Radha does not like Phagun because Krishna is not with her.
I do not like the month of Phagun
Flowers are blooming
The cuckoos are singing
Some are playing with abeer and gulal colours
O'Krishna! you have no feelings for me
Are you enjoying somewhere else?
In our rural areas, beats of dholak and playing of other traditional musical instruments wake up the sleeping cane fields when Holi arrives. The enthusiasm and devotion with which some of our Ramayan mandalies sing in the countryside produce musical waves in the calm atmosphere of villages with such verses:
Hori Khelan banwari biraj mein
Krishna is playing Holi in biraj
Along with his friends, he came from one side
And milkmaids from the other
Abeer and gulal colours were thrown from all sides
Krishna's clothes and Radha's sari were wet
What an exciting Holi !
During the celebrations, the revellers become so excited that even an ordinary man assumes the role of Krishna. While playing with colours, he would invite his "Radha" to join him:
Ham se laaj na kar gori, ham hain biraj kay rasia.
Do not feel shy, beautiful lass
Come! I am also a lover from biraj
Biraj is the area where Krishna lived.
Masses also have love, fondness and passion in their lives. Women have their own wishes and yearnings which are sometimes expressed in a very innocent way particularly during the Holi season. A couplet from a Punjabi folk song, when translated into English, goes like this:
O' man of my dreams!
When you cross my path
I pick up the dust
Of your fresh footprints
And touch it to my bosom
Our local poets, as the Holi season approaches, begin writing lyrics on the subject and send them to Hindi paper, Shanti Dut, for publication. They depict a lively picture of their innermost feelings and of our rural communities. Some of them have published their works in book forms. Phaag Manav Mitra Basant by Mahabir, Fiji Mein Parchalat Lok Geet by Ram Narayan Govind and Fiji Ke Lok Geet by Ms Ram Kumari contain many traditional ù type lyrics on Holi themes in their collections.
No other festival has given the Indian community such a vast treasury of folk songs as the subjects like Holi, Phagan and love relationship of Radha and Krishna.
Now Holi is celebrated in all those countries where the Indian diaspora has found its roots.
* Former principal of Khalsa College,Ba and author of many Hindi and English books, Mr Jogindar Singh Kanwal lives in Varadoli, Ba. His email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.