PHAGUAA – Its Relevance To Us In Modern Times
By Satish Prakash, Missionary of the Arya Samaj
Festivals are an important part of the sum-total of human culture. They seek to bring cohesiveness in a community and they point to the level of civilization that a particular nation or race has built over the years. Since festival time is always sacred, it provides man an opportunity to participate in a supernatural realm that informs or reminds him of his origin, identity and even destiny.
All countries of the world celebrate their own festivals, whether seasonal, agricultural, religious or national. India, perhaps more than any country of the world, boasts of several categories of festivals. These are so numerous, that they fill up the entire Indian calendar. There are seasonal festivals like Vasant Panchami and Makar Sankranti, religious festivals like Shravani Purnimaa, and national festivals like Independence and Republic Day. Diwali and Phaguaa are the most notable festivals in India. They are both agricultural-seasonal festivals, since they are celebrated at the time when crops are harvested and seasons are about to change. Diwali is celebrated in October when the rice crop is harvested and Fall comes, while Phaguaa is celebrated in March when the wheat crop is harvested and Spring comes. In Sanskrit, they are both called Nava Sasyeshti Parva (Festival of new grains).
Phaguaa is also known as Holi. Phaguaa (meaning, the festival of the month of Phaalgun) is the name of the Spring festival that is more known in Eastern Uttar Pradesh, whereas Holi (the festival of Holika) is the name that is universally used.
There are three principal ideas associated with the observance of Phaguaa, and these are seasonal change, grains, and brotherhood.
Seasonal Change: Winter is a long season, in which most of the world of vegetation “sleeps, as it were, in cold death”. Many trees and plants lose all signs of life – there are no leaves, no flowers, no fruits. After this period of death, Spring officially makes a declaration on the Calendar that it has come! But Oh! At this time, it is still cold. Approximately forty days after the official commencement of Spring, Indians observe a festival called Vasant Panchami. At this time, in the fields of North India, one can see the beautiful yellow flowers of the sarso (mustard) plant. Yes! Spring is here! The more this season establishes its ruling presence, the more it succeeds in conquering the wintry effects of hibernation and death. It brings warmth and smiles, color and fragrance, blossoms and flowers, fruits and grains, birds and natural sounds, fresh air and bright sunlight, farmers and their animals on their land, and even songs, music and dancing -and through these, the Season fortifies the foundations for life to assert its feeling of victory over death. From this day of Vasant Panchami until the official day of Phaguaa-Holi, there is joy all over the sacred land of our forefathers. It is for this reason, Spring (Vasant) is called Rituraaj, the King of all seasons.
Grains: Grains make up the very basis of a person’s life. People cannot live on dollars and cents; they live on, and thrive with, grains.The people of impoverished countries know the value of grains because there is very little to eat in those areas. A country that possesses more grains (yad annam bahu) than the population can actually consume (attaa kaneeyaan) is a prosperous country, says the Shatapath Braahman, one of the ancient texts of India. It is for this reason that wealth is praised in superlative terms, and the Source of that wealth (God) is worshipped with profound fervor. There are no grains reaped in Winter. Rituraaj Spring, however, brings grains. Like Diwali, Phaguaa is celebrated when the crop is harvested. Before the actual harvesting, people, especially in the villages of India, can, and sometimes do, experience a shortage of grain. Can we measure the joy a farmer experiences when he harvests his grains? Perhaps that farmer’s joy can compare to the joy of an impoverished American citizen winning a million-dollar lottery. It is in celebrating the coming of wealth that he, in his traditional style, sits down in a Havan ritual to make an oblation of his newly-harvested grains on to a blazing sacrificial fire. The farmer knows that several cosmic forces are responsible for this wealth – the earth with its fertility, the rains with their nourishment, the sun with its rays, and God with His mercy. And so, he wishes to express his gratitude unto all these cosmic forces. By his act of offering onto the holy fire, he symbolically surrenders ownership of that wealth.
Since grain-wealth is given to him by the forces of nature, he is not the sole owner and enjoyer. He is bound by natural and moral law to share. He eats sin who eats alone, warns the Rigveda. And, Shri Krishna, echoing this Vedic teaching in the Bhagavad Gita, calls him a stena, a thief, who eats all alone without sharing with those who deserve a portion of his wealth. So, on this same sacrificial fire, he roasts a set of newly harvested grains (like chick-peas). This roasted chickpeas is called holak or holikaa. He distributes roasted holak/holikaa to his friends, for which reason Phaguaa is also called Holikaa Utsav.
Brotherhood: We have said that Winter spells death, and Spring ushers in life. Old forms of hatred help prolong death. New feelings of brotherhood facilitate the germination and growth of new roots of life. On Phaguaa Day, we chant, Yo’smaan dwesti yam vayam dwishmas tam vo jambhe dadhmah – O Lord! I consign into Your Justice the hatred that I have for someone, or that someone may have for me!! And so, in the midst of merriment, singing and dancing, and spraying colors, we become colored in the colors of Spring that give life and share love.
In these modern times, we, too, like our foreparents, can celebrate Phaguaa-Holi in a meaningful way. Let us not live in exclusion of the creativity in the cycle of seasons, and let us recognize the arrival of new life by chanting holy Vedic verses, spraying colors, singing songs, making new friends by giving up old hatred, and sharing a part of our wealth with our fellow human beings. And, do not forget to teach your child that Phaguaa, like every other Arya/Hindu festival, is there to help him identify with his roots. Tell your child that he/she belongs to the ancient-most civilization and that the beliefs and practices of our system have been tested for generations and proven true.
Phaguaa Abhinandan – Phaguaa Greetings. Namaste!