Religious convergence
Stabroek News
January 4, 2002

A correspondent to our letter columns last week asked how Phagwah and Good Friday could be observed on the same day - March 29, this year - when they represent such opposite holidays. Phagwah, he wrote, was a celebration, "a festival of colours and the beginning of Spring for Hindus." Good Friday, on the other hand, was a remembrance, a "reflection of Jesus Christ's crucifixion on the cross," and a most solemn day in the Christian calendar. He really did not know, he said, how Christians could observe such a solemn occasion when there would be a joyous celebration going on at the same time.

The unusual conjunction of holidays in the year 2002 may well not end with Phagwah and Good Friday. Depending on the moon, it could transpire that the Muslim holiday of Eid-ul-Azha will fall on the same day as Mashramani. That, too, is an inauspicious convergence of special days. Mashramani has no religious content whatsoever, being a rowdy, unfettered, jump-up-and-wave, sort of occasion, in direct contrast to the subdued Moslem remembrance of Abraham's sacrifice.

It would be surprising if different religious and/or secular holidays had not collided before this year even though we might not recall them off-hand. Be that as it may, this is one of the challenges of a multi-faith society. There can be no question of any religious holiday being moved to another date; we just have to adapt to the situation and find ways of ensuring that

there is no unnecessary friction.

Since Phagwah is the joyous occasion, the onus is on the Hindu leaders, perhaps, to impress on members of their faith the need to be very restrained this year, and more particularly to respect all those going to or from the Christian church. Even more than usual they should persuade their flock of the necessity of first asking those who are not obviously playing phagwah, whether they want to do so, and to respect a negative response.

The problem is, of course, that some of those who join in the Phagwah festivities are not Hindus at all, and for them the throwing of abir and water have no religious significance. Certainly the pandits can have no influence over that category of persons who are usually young and are very much in evidence in the urban areas. In those circumstances, the responsibility will lie with the parents of those young people to impose the restrictions which are in consonance with their own faith.

Where Eid and Mashramani are concerned, while the latter is very much a public celebration, the float parade in the capital does have a fixed route, and it is much easier for Muslims to avoid the carnival, than it is for Christians to avoid the Phagwah celebration. The most that might be requested in this instance is that parade routes do not pass mosques.

Guyana has been a multi-faith society for a very long time, and it is surely not beyond our resources for understanding and tolerance to organize our religious observances in such a way that they do not impinge on the sensibilities of those of different beliefs - even when religious days fall on the same date.