The doppelganger of Holi!
If you thought Kolkata was famous only for the Bengali ‘Dol’ and the Non-Bengali ‘Holi’, there comes in a tiny diversion called ‘Phagua’ which lies in the hearts of every Bihari, living in the city, as the ultimate way to usher in colour and joy into their lives.
As the typical smell of ‘Abir’ merges with the sweet smell in the March air, Kolkata transforms into a tiny Vrindavan, with people literally painting the town red. If you thought only a part of Kolkata knew how to party, take your words back, as the real festival begins once the Bihari cult takes over the city.
Phagua or the lesser known Holi celebrated widely by the Biharis of Kolkata in the month of March is one auspicious event for them as this marks the beginning of a brighter and more ‘colourful’ year. Festivities begin a day prior to the actual Dol and instead of burning Holika on the night of Holi, they indulge in a tiny ceremony where they play with fire by throwing in ‘Kapur’, wheat, dried sticks and lentils. This might seem very Game of Thrones like but what really happens is that the young and old join hands to revel in the glory of the future and bid adieu to past sins and failures by watching the evil turn to ashes. They go round the fire for a good seven times. It’s not the ‘Saat Phera’ where one gets hitched, but this is all in good humour where people keep throwing lentils into the fire while belting out Bihari tunes of gaiety.
What really happens?
How is Phagua any different? Why would one seem to compare Dol with Phagua? The answer is simple. Just as every finger is not the same, so are the festivities. Phagua witnesses the women of the house using ‘Ghotia’ or ‘gobar’ or let’s chalk this down for you, they use cow dung to light the fire and cook food for the occasion. Now that’s something you rarely see in a Metropolitan like Kolkata.
Before you scrunch up your nose in total disgust, remember that Bihari cuisine is something to die for with the classic ‘Thekua’ or the cookies made out of sugar, flour and saunf, the ‘Pua’ or the Bihari version of the Bengali ‘Malpua’, the ever enticing ‘Puris’ and for the non-vegetarian addicts, the meat is cooked with the freshest spices and let out a smell that leaves your taste buds tingling in joy.
Before all the merry making, the Gods need to be pleased and who would dare go against rituals when everyone is so God-fearing. Folding hands in prayer and reverence in front of ‘Bhole Baba’, Ganesh Ji, Kali Ma and Santoshi Ma, the Biharis chant out Mantras and prayers with incense sticks lending out an aroma.
The party doesn’t start till they walk in!
Once everything is covered, forget your colours from Bara Bazar and get ready to get wet and dirty. Got your perverse mind running free? Hold your horses. The ‘Dhula Maati Khela’, synonymous to Phagua is what everyone awaits with baited breath. Rolling in dirt and mud, getting drenched in soil and flaunting earthy hues for the next few days is the ultimate goal of the festival. Dancing to the beats of the ‘Dholak’, the classic Bihari songs that may be poor in background music, but you can’t deny they get you grooving and jiving in a jiffy.
Go organic or go home.
This Holi, get hold of the contacts of your long lost friends in Kolkata who have their roots in Bihar but their hearts in Kolkata and get them to give you a taste of the unknown festival. Trust us, ‘rolling in the deep’ mud and munching on the ‘Thekuas’ will have you waiting for March with a zest every year. Who said organic colours could only be found at Starmark or Gariahat Market? The Bihari way of Holi is the real ‘organic’ deal!