Festivals are innate in every religion, be it Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, or any other religion. They play an integral part in our lives. Festivals are very fundamental in keeping us attached to our origins, our societies, our values; and, to some extent, they play essential roles in strengthening the unity of a nation.
These festivals vary; they can be events featuring music and dancing, or, like many, they can be religious. This article, however, would be based on the Hindu festival of Deepavali.
But while expounding more on this topic, we should give credence to our grandparents and great-grandparents who migrated from India to Guyana. They brought with them their religions, their traditions, their culture, their festivals, and those were subsequently passed on to our generation. Of the numerous festivals they brought with them, one of them is Deepavali.
Deepavali literally means “rows of clay lamps”, and the festival is commonly known as ‘The Festival of Light’. It symbolises the victory of righteousness and the triumph of good over evil. This festival falls in the month of Karthik, during the months of either October or November. This year, it will be celebrated on the 14th day of November.
The reasons for this festival are innumerable. But the most known reason that is associated with this festival, based on the Hindu epic of Ramayana, is the return of Lord Rama to Ayodhya with his wife Sita and his brother Lakshmana, after their fourteen years of exile in the forests. During this period, the evil Ravana was deposed with the help of Hanuman and Vibhishan. This festival is also associated with the demise of the demon king Narakasura by Lord Krishna.
It is stated that King Narakasura troubled the villagers and disturbed the penance of the sages, while simultaneously terrorising the gopis of Vrindavan. Deepavali also marks the onset of the New Year; it literally means “starting afresh, by cleaning our hearts of all darkness and bitterness we have for one another”.
Prior to and during this Deepavali celebration, a healthy and disciplined environment is maintained. We clean the rooms of our houses, preparing vegetarian dishes, making delicious sweets, abstaining from alcohol, and taking a shower before doing our pujas. Hindu temples are also cleaned, and decked with decorations inside and outside. At dusk, as the sun sets, diyas are lit both at homes and in temples, and are placed on altars, along the steps, and in the pathways. Devotees can be seen dressed in their traditional Hindu clothing as they saunter their way to the temples.
During the puja ceremony, homage is paid to Mother Maha Lakshmi, to give us an abundance of faith, success and prosperity in our lives. Traditional songs are sung, accompanied by traditional dances, while stories are told relative to this festival. However, to culminate this festival, flotillas of vehicles are often decked with myriads of lights and colours, accompanied with the traditional songs and dances that meander through the villages and towns.
Today, as we herald a new beginning in our divided and beautiful country of Guyana, let us invoke the spirit of Deepavali in our hearts, despite our different religions and races. Guyana’s unity is in its diversity, as unity gives us courage, power and strength, while simultaneously not forgetting the phrase “united we stand, divided we fall”.