DIWALI is now part of the national holiday calendar, it is one of the most colourful holidays in Guyana. It is a time when fairylights brighten homes all over the country, diyas are lit in thousands of yards, passageways and on bridges and, on Diwali eve, scores of colourfully lit and imaginatively decorated floats participate in motorcades in each county.
The television and radio carry special Diwali programmes and Diwali music is heard everywhere. Diwali celebrants deliver boxes of exotic Indian sweetmeats to their friends and associates and the colourfully decorated temples are always full with worshippers.
Citizens of all religions now participate in Diwali celebrations. For example, the overwhelming majority of the thousands who line the streets to enjoy the spectacle of the Diwali motorcades are non-Hindus and non-Hindus would even attend Diwali services at the mandirs with their Hindu friends. All, irrespective of religious affiliation, participate with gusto in the Diwali curries and sweetmeats at the homes of their friends and neighbours.
Guyanese tend to equate the messages of all religious holidays as being similar. They all teach that good will triumph over evil, that charity should be given to the poor and distressed, that mankind must cultivate a moral, ethical and spiritual life, and love one’s neighbour as one’s self. But despite the essence of all religions being the same, they do differ in their theology and metaphysics.
Hinduism’s metaphor and icons have survived from primaeval times and, as such, differ from those of more modern religions. Its icons, analogous to all religions, are intended to convey ethical and spiritual messages. The icons associated with Diwali are Mother Lakshmi and Lord Rama.
Very ancient festivals and holy days often have a confluence of many myths and legends meeting in them. In Diwali, there is the story of Lord Rama who was banished to the forests for fourteen years and on his final return to his kingdom of Ayodhya, the citizens were so overjoyed at the return of their perfect king that they lit up the streets, their yards and their homes with millions of diyas. The tradition of lighting diyas at Diwali dates from the time of Lord Rama’s return from exile.
Diwali is also associated with Lakshmi, which Hinduism teaches is that aspect of God which represents enlightenment and economic success and wealth. Hinduism teaches that God is infinite and that Man and his mind are finite. Accordingly, man with his finite mind cannot realise the infinity of God. The only way in which Man could realise God is through the various aspects with which the finite mind could connect. The lights of Diwali represent the light of enlightenment eliminating the darkness of ignorance. Lakshmi also represents wealth and economic success and this is indicated in her icon by the steady stream of gold coins flowing from her open palm. The religion teaches that those who desire wealth and economic success will invoke and worship Mother Lakshmi at Diwali. In addition to its spiritual and material messages, Diwali also teaches the cultivation of charity, friendliness to all and regarding one’s fellow man as one’s brother.
Since Independence, Guyana has been regarding itself and indeed evolving into a plural society wherein all its various cultural strands would make their contributions towards enriching Guyanese culture. Over the last several years, Diwali has been making such contribution. Shubh Diwali! Happy Diwali !