Today is Holi or Phagwah, one of the festivals brought by the Indentured servants from India between 1938 to 1917 and bequeathed to our nation. Holi should not only remind us of the good triumphing over evil theme that is regularly trotted out by speakers on public platforms. More germanely, we must ask how exactly was it that the good triumphed in the specific incidents commemorated: this might offer us a clue as to how we may act in the present. And inevitably we will see it took men and women – and in the case of Holi, a child – to act against great odds to overcome the “evil”.
In the tradition of the people who brought us the festival of Holi, evil and good are not external to the world but immanent in the actions of people who would oppress those around them – and this must always be resisted. Some of those people are among us and can be very close. In these case of “Holi” the evildoer was the King of a group of people who were very powerful and had once opposed the gods. Their designation is unfortunately given as “demons” in English translations of Hindu texts, but unfortunately the Western tradition cannot deal with realities that are not simple dichotomies of black and white.
Now one may say if some people had opposed the gods then how can “good” come from them? But in Hinduism, each person is considered “good” once he fulfils his own duty. And it was his own son, who opposed him and eventually brought back the rule of the good – their good – for their people. In Guyana, because of our history where people with several cultures were brought here and still practice aspects of those cultures to greater or lesser extent, there may be instances where there may be differences in opinion as to what constitute the good in certain values some practice of another group. But in the end, we have to place ourselves in the shoe of the “other” and try to comprehend from within the message that is sought to be conveyed.
The message of Holi is that power always corrupts individuals unless they accept there are countervailing powers, and always act within their remit. In the case of the King who strayed, he had been given a boon by the gods, which, he thought, made him immortal. Many persons hearing the story of this King only speak of his arrogance and high handed actions but forget that for him to be blessed by the gods, he had to have done good even by their criteria. And it is so with many in our own time and place in Guyana who started out on the right path but very soon were seduced to excesses in so many ways.
The son who eventually opposed his father and brought him down was very much loved by the King in the beginning, but in “knowing better”, the son accepted he had to “do better” even though it meant opposing his own father. In like manner, today there are people who are oppressing others in so many ways, and not only at the national level – but even in the family and the villages. We may be close to them in one way or another. But the message of Holi is that we have to stand up and oppose the oppressor even though to some of our “own” it may look like a betrayal of trust.
In the case of the boy Prahalad, his own aunt Holika – the brother of the King – tried to convince her nephew of the error of his ways, but the boy stuck to his guns. And good triumphed over evil. As we celebrate Holi today, or tomorrow, let us remember this homily and apply it in our own lives to make our Guyana in some way better.
Happy Holi, Guyana.