The Prem Bhakti Mandir in Queens, New York was packed to capacity for the fifth annual chowtaal sameelan – singing of chowtaal songs accompanied by melodious tunes – on Sunday afternoon March 10.
The event was hosted by the Guyana Hindu Dharmic Sabha USA Praant led by Dave Thakoordeen of Port Mourant, Guyana. Some fifteen organizations and Mandirs partook in the chowtaal singing accompanied by drummers and the clinging of jaals (cymbals) and dantaals. Each chowtaal group sang at the top of their voices. Each group had a minimum of ten participants with some as large as twenty. Every member of the Chowtaal group sang and beat jhals (cymbals) while some beat the drum (dholak) and the dantaal. Some in the audience took to the floor dancing.
The audience was jubilant cheering the performers. They had a fun time with some joining in the singing echoing the lyrics or verses of the fast tempo singing. Many could be seen clapping and dancing or gyrating with the music.
Chowtaal is a very rich musical genre that originated in India among the Bhojpuri speaking belt in north India. It is sung only during the phagwah season, known as Holi, which is the Hindu festival of color and joy. This year Holi (Phagwah) is on Thursday March 21st but Holi activities have been held worldwide for the past two weeks now.
Chowtaal is a folk music of village life. It was transmitted to and institutionalized in the US and Canada by Indo-Caribbbean immigrants.
The singing involves two competing groups of singers and musicians all seated. The groups assembled in two rows with the singers facing each other (semi-circle), with a “dholak” drummers at one or both end. The participants sing lines of Hindi or Bhojpuri text antiphonally. It involves loud repetitions of chants about life in the villages or political struggles and or on the Hindu Gods and Goddesses. It was introduced abroad by indentured (girmitya) immigrants who were taken to the colonies of the British, French and Dutch territories. It is still practiced in the Indian villages in Guyana and in north India. Chowtaal is a fast moving tempo of singing and voice modulation and musical beats. In the Caribbean, it has captivated audiences of all ethnicities and religions some of whom also participate in chowtaal singing.
Chowtaal Samelan has become an annual event held countrywide in Guyana, Trinidad and Surinam. It was practiced in Jamaica and the other territories during the early period of Indian presence but has died out. Chowtaal groups engage in folk singing in virtually every mandir in Trinidad, Guyana, and Surinam in Guyana and in Trinidad, mandirs are from each region converge at various locations to share in spirited singing reflective of the Holi festival. In Guyana, chowtaal was sung by village or temple groups with members going from home to home or village to village on Holi day. The Dharmic Sabha USA Praant has introduced the chowtaal in New York through the efforts of Dave Thakordeen. The objective is to continue this tradition by hosting the gols from the mandirs in the Tri-State area.
The fifteen gols for this year’s event included the Prem Bhakti Mandir, Shiv Bholenauth Bhavan Mandir, Satya Sanatan Dharma Ramayan Gol, Shanti Bhavan Mandir, Ganesh Mandir, T & T Richmond Hill Chowtaal Group, Shiva Durga Mandir, Bhuvaneshwar Mandir, Sanatan Dharma Mandir of NY, Queens Hindu Mandir, Suriname Chautal Samaj, Shri Trimurti Bhavan Mandir, Maha Devi Saraswati Chowtaal Group, Rama Krishna Bhavan Mandir and the Shyama Shyam Dham Mandir.
Notably, there were three groups consisting of all young devotees -- Queens Hindu Mandir under the leadership of Pandit Ravi Maharaj, the Shiva Durga Mandir of Newark, NJ (Pandit Hardatt) which had twenty-four young devotees and the Sanaatan Dharma Mandir of NY led by Bhai Harriram Thakoordeen. The Bhuvaneshwar Mandir group consisted of 90% young devotees as well. Each group was presented with a special gift (jaals) for their participation and the young devotee groups received trophies as well.
This year’s event featured special guest Trishala Simantini Persaud, younger daughter of the founder of the Guyana Hindu Dharmic Sabha the late Pandit Reepu Daman Persaud. Sunday March 24th at 2 PM, the USA Praant will host for the 1st time here in New York Holi Utsav which is another event that was started some years ago by the Guyana Hindu Dharmic Sabha. This event will be held at the Maha Lakshmi Mandir located at 121-15 101 Avenue in Richmond Hill, Queens. This is a free community event where attendees can enjoy holi songs, chowtaals, tassa, and complimentary Phagwah delicacies.