Guyana a shining example of religious tolerance – Indian High Commissioner
Diwali in Guyana
Indian High Commissioner to Guyana, Dr KJ Srinivasa has lauded Guyanese for their display of oneness and religious tolerance.
He was at the time speaking with Guyana Times, on the significance of Diwali – which is being observed today.
“It (Diwali celebrations in Guyana) is very unique – the religious tolerance, the oneness that Guyana has among the six communities. All the other religions, each one participates in the other function. So, I take Guyana as an example of secularism, of tolerance, it is a shining beacon of such brotherhood. I would always tell this to my friends back home and abroad that if you come to Guyana you feel that here. It doesn’t matter if you are Muslim, Christian, Hindu – each one is so intricate. The people love to be together,” the Indian diplomat said.
Diwali is celebrated throughout the world to ward off the darkness and welcome the light into our lives. Celebrating the triumph of good over evil and spanning five days each autumn, Diwali is considered by some to be the start of the New Year in the Hindu calendar.
In Guyana, the festival of lights was brought to Guyana in the 1800s by the first indentured people from India. The celebrations hold special significance: wearing new clothes is a symbol of healthy souls in healthy bodies; the distribution of sweets signifies the importance of serving and sharing, and exchanging greeting cards denotes the goodwill of each other. Keeping homes illuminated inside and out is a practice meant to illuminate the path for Goddess Lakshmi when she visits.
“Diwali also signifies the starting of a new year and many people actually close their account books and start new account books on this day and they all worship goddess Lakshmi, goddess Kali as the case may be for health, wealth, prosperity,” the High Commissioner said.
He noted that in Hindu mythology, Diwali also signifies the path from ignorance to knowledge with the very lighting of the diya – which brings light to the dark. The festival is the time for good over evil and brings about introspection and contemplation.
Charity serves as one of the main highlights of the festival and the High Commissioner made a request of all Guyanese, in the time of COVID-19, to open their hearts and pockets and help those who they can help.
“I am happy to be in Guyana to celebrate Diwali…Guyana has always stayed true to the rich cultural link, the traditional links and what I feel personally when I [go] to functions, especially mandirs, is that the celebrations I hear those songs dating back to the 19th century it is a priceless treasure,” Dr Srinivasa said.
Diwali though originated in the East, has become amalgamated into the wider diverse cultural tapestry of the West, particularly the Caribbean and North America, where most of the Indians have come to settle during the colonial indentureship regime.
The word “Diwali” or “Deepavali” etymologically in their construct translate to mean “a row of light”. Literally, an illumination that dispels darkness. Metaphorically, darkness connotes ignorance, hostility, arrogance, injustice, illegality, inequity, intolerance and restriction to one’s fundamental freedoms, entitlement, choices and expressions.
Very unique to this celebration is the preparation for the lighting of the earthen lamps, the “diya”, a vessel that is primarily made of clay and uniquely shaped and baked into firmness. Traditionally this has been the centre of the celebration, and still is, though local producers have suffered a decline in demand due to the rush for the technologically modified semi-electric lamps which do not really create the ambience and evoke the emotions relative to those created by the sight and interaction with the “real clay diyas”.
The High Commissioner explained that Diwali is usually a five-day celebration in Indian which starts with Dhanteras – that is two days before Lakshmi puja or the main Diwali celebration. Dhanteras is observed on triodasi, the dark half of the Hindu month of Kartik. A single diya or Yamdeep is lit to petition the Lord for longevity and good health.
Another legendary story says that Dhanvantari, the Lord of Medicine or Ayurveda, who is another incarnation of Lord Vishnu, took birth on this day from the Samudra Manthan episode, a cosmic battle between gods and demons who were fighting for Amrit or holy nectar from ocean water that makes one immortal.
“On the first day of Dhanteras, people go and buy gold because they say it is very lucky if you buy gold on that day. It also commemorates the birthday of Dhanvantri which is the Indian god of health,” he said.
The second days is Narak Chaturdasi or Choti Diwali. The day is associated with the defeat of pride, evil and arrogance. Narkasur – a demon – was vanquished and women freed from captivity by Bhagwan Krishna.
The third day is the main event – Lakshmi puja and the day all the diyas are lit.
“In Indian mythology, the celebration of Diwali originates on the day that Lord Rama returns from Lanka after defeating Ravana,” Srinivasa said.
Goverdhan puja and bhai dooj is observed on the fourth and fifth day respectively.