Multi-religious Respect and Nauratri

Guyana is undoubted a multi-religious country. The three major world religions of Hinduism, Islam and Christianity all have a significant presence in our country. Newer religions such as Rastafarianism and Bahaism are also represented. This fortuity presents Guyanese with the opportunity to deepen their spirituality by becoming familiar with the tenets of religions other than their own while simultaneously developing a deeper understanding of their neighbours. This can only lead to heightened societal harmony: it is what we do not know that we fear and sometimes attack.
Founded as a colony by European Protestant Christian countries such as Netherlands and Britain, the spiritual and religious impulses of the native peoples and those brought as slaves (and later indentured servants), were denigrated as ‘pagan’ and ‘heathen’. In fact, African slaves were horribly tortured if they were caught practicing their own religion. That they could see the Divine in trees and other aspects of nature was derided as ‘animism’-  even as they were told that God was ‘here, there and everywhere.” Some who were Moslems were treated in like manner. Almost all “converted” to the official approved Christian religion.
While the Roman Catholic variant of Christianity brought by the first indentureds – the Maderian Portuguese – was considered as infra dig by the authorities, it was tolerated and soon found a place with their practitioners as the latter entrenched themselves in the towns and villages as businessmen. The small number of Chinese, who also followed the Portuguese off the sugar plantations into business, had already been converted into Christianity. The fact that very few women were brought from China and the men had to marry into the wider Christian population might have been a significant factor in their religious asssimilation.
The Indians, however, presented a different proposition. Brought after the compulsion to forcibly convert ‘pagans’ had subsided, the Indians maintained their native practices much more stubbornly than the others. That they were brought in large numbers and forced to remain in close proximity to each on the sugar plantations, certainly contributed to their cultural and religious retention.
The Indians were primarily from North India (94%) and were practitioners of Hinduism (86% overall) and Islam (14%). There were only a handful of Christians among their numbers even though by the time of their indentureship, India had been conquered by Britain for a century. And even though in subsequent years the pressure to convert to Christianity continued, Hinduism and Islam continue to flourish in Guyana. In recent years, there has been a significant return of many Africans to Islam.
And so we return to our religious diversity which should be seen as part of our national patrimony. It is to be hoped that if there is greater awareness of our history there would be a greater appreciation of the need to cease the denigration of the religious practices and in fact move towards an acceptance to learn about those practices. And in that spirit it might be apposite to explain why Hindus the first of their bi-annual nine-nights of worshipping the Divine as female – Chaitra Navratri – starting on Wednesday night.
Against the dominant mode of worship of that Divine as male, Hindus believe that a ‘Being’ that transcends at the minimum the entire universe and – if modern science is to be believed – multi-verses, has to also transcend our categories of “male and female”. They say that Brahman, as they name “It”, is gender neutral. Within human comprehension, they give names to the various functions and powers of God. Interestingly, for each of the Gods they have His feminine counterpart who actually possess the ‘power’ to effectuate the specific function.
So from a human perspective, for the three main functions  –  to project the universe, to maintain it and finally take it into dissolution in unending cycles – there are three Goddesses that are the “power” or Shakti. This Nauratri  is devoted to goddess Durga, whose nine forms are worshipped on nine days. The last day is also Rama Navami, the birthday of Rama.