The Festival of Lights during COVID-19

Tonight will be the darkest and longest night of the year. To us in Guyana, who are near the Equator, the lengthening is not as significant at that for countries nearer the North Pole. In India, for instance, from where almost half of our population originated, at this time, early man would have reaped his crops and prepared for winter. Lights were lit to celebrate the harvests and also to mark the gradual lengthening of the days and the return of light.
This was the birth of Diwali, that joyous festival in which God, in the female form of “Mother Lakshmi”, the giver of wealth and light, is worshipped. Food was wealth to early man, and one can understand why She is worshipped at this time. Hindus are very clear about the need for man to acquire wealth: it is his duty, for without wealth man cannot take care of any of his mortal obligations. But even more important that acquiring wealth is its distribution for the upliftment of society. The Hindu is exhorted to “earn with a hundred hands; give with a thousand”.
The first prayer uttered by the Hindu upon awakening, while looking at his open palms, is “Lakshmi (Goddess of Wealth) is on the tip of my fingers; Saraswati (Goddess of Knowledge) is in the middle and Govinda (The God of Protection) is at its base.” Man, then, is responsible for earning wealth; but, to do so, he must acquire knowledge. Armed with wealth and knowledge, he will be able to protect him/herself, family, community and country.
This acquiring of knowledge is one of the “lights” that Divali reminds us must be lit. In Guyana today, there is much ignorance abounding, and because of this, society suffers. The knowledge of how we can make our society more harmonious is available; many countries also had similar challenges, but worked successfully to address them. Is there a Guyanese who really does not have the “information” that the leaders of all the groups of Guyana must cooperate for the development of our country? But information must be validated through action to become “knowledge”: and until we all choose leaders who are prepared to work together for the common good, we are all ensuring our dark nights will only lengthen.
Diwali also suggests another message – for the individual. When the nights were getting longer, early man would have seen that the individual lights did not make a difference, but together the sun could be evoked. Let there be light! And this is what we also have to do in Guyana. In addition to selecting leaders who have the interests of all the people at heart, individuals also have to light their own lights to eliminate whatever darkness confronts them. Is it a problem with a neighbour? A co-worker? Then do what it takes to resolve the problem – that will be “lighting a light”.
The actual festival of Diwali has also come down to us with other practices that are of immense value to creating a more cohesive society: the process is as important as the content. There is a complete and most thorough cleaning of the home by all members of the Hindu family to welcome Mother Lakshmi into that home. There is also the cooking of sweetmeats and creating of diyas (fast disappearing) which all help to bring the family closer together. The sharing of the sweetmeats with neighbours and friends spreads that closeness far and wide in the community.
In multi-ethnic and multi-religious Guyana, it is a welcome development that groups other than Hindus are participating in this festival of Divali, which can play such a positive role in nation building. The Hindus themselves have increasingly begun to take the festival into the public space, where the rest of the country can be engaged. The Diwali Motorcade, which unfortunately had to be cancelled this year again due to COVID-19 – but rather take on a virtual form – has become a feature in Guyana’s cultural heritage.
Shubh Diwali to all!