The 9th annual edition of the New York Indo-Caribbean Chowtaal Samelan (gathering of singers and listeners) was held on Sunday February 26 at the Prem Bhakti Mandir on 172nd Street in Jamaica, Queens. It was one of the largest gatherings of participants and congregation of Chowtaal singing in America with members of a dozen cultural groups and mandirs belching out Phagwah related songs accompanied by music (drumming, dhantal, Jaal or cymbals, dholak, etc.). The mandir echoed with a Holi chowtaal ring. Prem Bhakti was overflowing with revelers who came to cheer the more than a hundred participants. The audience moved their bodies with the rhythm of the music, clapping and cheering the singers and those who provided the music.
The Samelan was hosted by the Guyana Hindu Dharmic Sabha USA Praant and coordinated by Bhai Dave Thakoordeen, formerly of Port Mourant. The emcees included Ms Samantanie Persaud (daughter of Pandit Reepu of Guyana) and Ms. Seema Thakoordeen. The Guyana Hindu Dharmic Sabha USA Praant is an umbrella organization dedicated to the promotion of culture. The concept of the Phagwah Samelan started countrywide in Guyana some fifty years ago. It was an initiative of the Guyana Dharmic Saba led by by the late Pandit Reepudaman Persaud. It is continuing under the leadership of Dr. Vindya Persaud who succeeded her father as President of the Dharmic Sabha.
Chowtaal is a folk music of village life in India. Chowtaal was brought to the Caribbean by the indentured laborers (girmityas) who started coming to the Caribbean in May 1838. Recruitments of indentured laborers ended in March 1917 and indentureship was abolished on January 1, 1920. Chowtaal was transmitted to and institutionalized in the US, Canada, Holland, and UK by Indo-Caribbbean immigrants. Chowtaal is a very rich musical genre that originated in India among the Bhojpuri speaking belt in north India – Western UP, Eastern Bihar. 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 Wednesday March 8 with Holika Dahaan burning on the evening of march 7. Holi chowtaal singing have been held at mandirs all over the US and worldwide for the past two weeks. Although Chowtaal music genre is on the decline in India, it thrives in the Caribbean and North American continent. Indo-Guyanese and others preserve this musical art form in NYC with its choral singing and fast tempo music.
Chowtaal is very popular in Trinidad, Suriname, and Guyana and in America where large numbers of Hindus reside. It is sung in Temples. It was brought to the USA by early immigrants — Mahatma Gandhi Satsangh, (Pt. Oumadat Maharaj) and other groups. The Dharmic Sabha USA Praant introduced the chowtaal sameelan in NY. The objective is to continue this tradition by hosting the gaols (groups) from the mandirs in the Tri-State area. Participants this year included groups from Guyana, Suriname, Trinidad, and New York.
The singers sang at the top of their voices in their group. Each group had a minimum of ten participants with some over twenty participants. 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 clapping and or dancing.
The large congregation listened rapturously. 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.
Among this year’s participants were: Prem Bhakti Mandir, Satya Sanatan Dharma Ramayan Gol, Ganesh Mandir, T & T Richmond Hill Chowtaal Group, Bhuvaneshwar Mandir, Suriname Chautal Samaj, Shri Trimurti Bhavan Mandir, Maha Devi Saraswati Chowtaal Group, and several other mandirs and organizations. There were several individual male and female singers and dancers representing several organizations.
There were many young participants. Pandit Baya is training a group of youngsters to sing chowtaal and Hindu scriptures (mantras, etc.).
Dave Thakoordeen, the Chairman of the Guyana Hindu Dharmic Sabha USA Praant thanked the participating groups all of which received a plaque. He said it was a fantastic afternoon of singing and music. He expressed gratitude to all the planners and volunteers and the organizers of the event. The proceedings were carried live on social media.
The attendees and participants were treated to a sumptuous vegetarian.
The event began with a Sanskrit stotra-based invocation of Hindy chanting.
Being an annual event, next year’s Samelan is scheduled for next year March same venue. The organizers are looking for more participants. USA Praant’s Dave Thakoordeen can be reached at 347-291-3807.