By Anil Bedasie
On Sunday March 1st, the Prem Bhakti Mandir in Jamaica NY was the venue for our community largest Chowtaal Samelan, which continues to attract hundreds of devotees each year. And 2020 was no different with over 500 attendees who listen to chowtaals and Holi songs performed by mandirs and cultural organizations.
This successful event was hosted by the Guyana Hindu Dharmic Sabha USA Praant which is an umbrella organization dedicated in the promotion of culture here in North America. The program was chaired by a number of young devotees including Ambika Persaud, Reshma Bridgelall, Yogita John, Suchitra Ramprashad and Veena Bedasie.
Chowtaal Samelan, an initiative of the Guyana Hindu Dharmic Sabha is an annual event held countrywide in Guyana in all of the Praants (branches) of the Dharmic Sabha. Chowtaal gols, or groups, from Mandirs in each region converge at various venues to share in spirited singing reflective of the Holi festival. The objective of the USA Praant is to continue this tradition by hosting the gols from the mandirs in the Tri-State area.
Some sixteen groups partook in the mela, with each singing several chowtaals at the top of their lungs in a rigorous session. Each group had a minimum of ten participants. Every member of the Chowtaal group sang and beat jhals (cymbals), while some beat the drum (dholak) and the dantaal. There was also a record number of young devotees in many groups.
This year Chowtaal Samelan groups include the Prem Bhakti Mandir (host mandir), The Satya Sanatan Dharma Ramayan Chowtaal Gol, Trimurti Bhavan Mandir, Shanti Bhavan Mandir Mandalee Group, Bhuvaneshwar Mandir, Sanataan Dharma Mandir of NY, the National Children Cultural Foundation, T&T Richmond Hill Chowtaal Group, Queens Hindu Mandir, Sur Sangam Chowtaal Gol, the Shiva Durga Mandir of NJ and a special Tamil Holi presentation by the Shri Maha Kali Mandir of Brooklyn NY. Also, Holi songs were presented by Baby Seetaram, Dropadi Durgaprasad and members of the Vishnu Satsangh Sabha Mandir based in Hollis NY.
In addition to chowtaals, the audience has the pleasure of listening to several talented vocalists who are members of the Dharmic Sabha, namely Suchitra Ramprashad, Seema Thakoordeen, Vishalie Sookram, Rookmin Seetaram and Artie Sookhai Khelawan, who made her New York debut and captivated the audience with three beautiful songs.
The Holi message was delivered by one of the community spiritual leaders namely Pandit Ravi Maharaj, priest in charge of the Queens Hindu Mandir. Pandit Ravi’s message reflected on the significance of Holi and summarized the story of Lord Vishnu’s ardent devotee Bhakta Prahalad.
During the program, there was a special presentation of a Certificate of Appreciation by Simantini Persaud, the daughter of the late Pandit Reepu Daman Persaud (founder of the Sabha), and Dave Thakoordeen (USA Praant Chairman) to the family of the late Vice Chairman of the USA Praant known as Uncle Churaman. His family was very appreciative of this gesture and commented that Uncle Churaman dedicated many years of his life in support of the Sabha’s activities, both in Guyana and here in New York.
Chowtaal was brought to the Caribbean by indentured laborers from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. It is a folk music of village life in the Hindi and Bhojpuri belt in India. It was transmitted to and institutionalized in the US and Canada by Indo-Caribbbean immigrants. Chowtaal is sung during the Phagwah season, known as Holi, which is the Hindu festival of color and joy.
Many attendees commented on social media that by listening to the various chowtaals, it reminded them of wonderful memories where this festive season of Holi gives devotees a chance to rejuvenate and strengthen the feeling of togetherness.
During the week of March 8th 2020, devotees across the world will celebrate this wonderful festival. Many remember the many significances of Phagwah which is an opportunity to renew faith, friendship and new beginnings in their lives for this festival is a constant reminder to destroy the negative tendencies within us and replace with positive thoughts, words and actions.
As an annual event, next year’s Samelan is scheduled in March so mark your calendars. The USA Praant team would like to encourage the formation of more gols so that each mandir can be represented in future Chowtaal Samelans. For more information, please contact the Chairman of the USA Praant Dave Thakoordeen at 347-291-3807.