THE FESTIVAL OF LIGHTS
Festivals contribute to the cultural tapestry of all countries. Each festival brings with it a unique blend of customs, traditions and acts as a harbinger of good-will, peace and fraternity.
Centuries ago, Deepavali was celebrated in the confines of the logies and the villages. Our forebears, the indentured immigrants strove to maintain their culture and religion with whatever limited facilities were available in those times. Diyas were lovingly crafted out of mud and the radiance given off from these little lights served as a beacon of hope to them as they toiled under the most horrendous conditions.
Deepavali, which literally means ‘a row of lights’, is celebrated on the 15th day of the Hindu month of Kartik. That dark night or Amawasya is conducive to the twinkling lights that illuminate every nook and cranny. Worship of the goddess Maha Lakshmi is the main focus of Deepavali. The aspirant performs Lakshmi puja and seeks her blessing for material and spiritual fulfillment. The festival encourages the participation of the entire family and it has long been the custom in Guyana for everyone in the home to gather in front of their Lakshmi murti at dusk chanting prayers and mantras before emerging to light their first diya.
Collectively devotees attend their mandirs and petition the mother with one voice – TAMASO MAA JYOTIR GAMAYA, lead us from the darkness and the depths of despair and ignorance to the path of light and truth. Prior to the day itself the home and mandirs would be thoroughly cleaned and decorated in preparation for the Goddess of light, Maha Lakshmi. The ladies of the home would in recent times design elaborate rangolis ( coloured tracings on the floor) and be absorbed in making sweet delicacies for family and friends. At this time, the household would be sanctified as vegetarian fasts are the norm. Hindus would also abstain from alcohol and other negative things. Deepavali is preceded by Triodasi and Chaturdasi. On Triodasi, a yama diya is lit with prayers for longevity. Three to five diyas are lit on Chaturdasi or Choti Diwali in remembrance of the defeat of Narkasur at the hands of Lord Krishna. This day is special for women as they propitiate Lord Krishna who had released many women who were held captive by the despot Narkasur. It was on this day that lord Krishna re-established the principle so beautifully composed in the Manu Smriti – Where women are honoured there the gods dwell. Goverdhan Puja is performed the day after Diwali reminiscent of the time when Krishna Bhagwan held aloft the Goverdhan Mountain to protect the villagers from the rains and thunderstorms. The 5 day observance concludes with Bhai Dhuj, a day for the renewal of filial ties between brother and sister.
The many occurrences associated with the festival assure that despotism and injustice had to be crushed to allow the emergence of Ram Rajya. The vanity and haughtiness of king Bali or the arrogance and autocracy of Narkasur must not again unfold. Over the last 3 decades the festival has gained prominence, and features on Guyana’s list of national holidays.
Deepavali has emerged from homes and mandirs and presently many commercial entities and public building are decorated with lights to welcome the goddess Maha Lakshmi. The trend of using electric lights has increased and more persons are supplementing their diyas with these creating an aesthetically appealing look that has passers by gasping in awe. Diyas are hardly made by individual householders, but those professionally made from clay can be purchased from stores and vendors. Novel innovations to the once simple mud diya filled with ghee and lit with a cotton wick include wax filled diyas and electrical diyas. The humble diya has certainly withstood generations and in spite of all the new- fangled techniques it still reminds the Hindu to rekindle that inner light within and to extend to all those he or she comes in contact with.
The Guyana Hindu Dharmic Sabha’s Countrywide Motorcades have become synonymous with the celebration of Deepavali. Thousands of Guyanese of every stratum of society and cultural belief throng the roads to witness the processions of beautifully decorated and illuminated vehicles depicting the theme of Deepavali. In the olden days it wasn’t unusual to see horse-drawn carts gaily bedecked for the motorcade. With the advent of advanced technology the vehicles ranging from low-bed trucks to sleek cars are carefully designed with sophisticated lights and mobile parts. Guyanese who have migrated overseas have attempted to hold motorcades with some success, but the Dharmic Sabha’s motorcades are still outstanding and major tourist attractions.
Deepavali in its many dimensions addresses questions which are not only philosophical, but also economical and social in orientation. Deepavali is thus all embracing in its significance. Socially not only the whole family is involved in its observance rather the entire community participates in a spirit of visible cordiality and joy. Deepavali threatens darkness in all its dimensions and influences the emergence of an illuminated society in which there exists understanding, tolerance, love and cordiality.
Societies are built and sustained on foundations such as these. Festivals like Deepavali serve to rekindle hopes and expectation, and influence society in a positive direction. Deepavali revitalises and renews the spirit of optimism from which a new beginning can be constructed, based on equity and noble intentions.