Deepavali: The triumph of light over darkness

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Deepavali has always been that time of the year where a sense of togetherness prevails among Guyanese from all walks of life.
Though it is a Hindu holiday, for all, Deepavali is one traditionally spent with family and friends, savouring treats and sweetmeats. Guyanese, whether young or old, have all grown to appreciate the abundance of lights, the bursting of fireworks and even the ever-present boom from firecrackers associated with the festivities.
Deepavali, more popularly referred to as Diwali, is an official holiday in Guyana. In fact, it is a five-day festival which coincides with the Hindu New Year. The actual day of Diwali is traditionally celebrated on the festival’s third day, which, this year, falls on Tuesday, November 10th.
‘Deep’ means “light” and ‘avali’ means “row of lights.” Known as the “festival of lights,” Deepavali signifies the victory of good over evil, and of light over darkness. Many beliefs surround the origin of the festival and the celebration dates back to 50-100 AD.
As for the reason it is celebrated, one of the most popular stories told is the legend of Lord Rama and his wife Sita returning to their kingdom in northern India from exile after defeating the demon king Ravanna in the 15th century BC.
Here in Guyana, Deepavali is celebrated with great enthusiasm. Being a Hindu festival, Goddess Lakshmi is worshipped and lamps are lit in the evening to dispel darkness. But what is it really all about?
The festival is marked by large firework displays, to remember the celebrations which, according to the legend, took place upon Rama’s return as locals set off their own version of fireworks. Those celebrating the festival also light traditional earthen diyas or candles and decorate their houses with colourful rangoli artworks – patterns created on the floor using coloured rice or powder.
It is also traditional for homes to be cleaned and new clothes to be worn at the time of the festival.
Families and friends share sweets and gifts as there is also a strong belief in giving food and goods to those in need. The food usually distributed during the festival is Indian sweets, which come in a range of colours and flavours. The celebration, however, features various rich savoury and sweet dishes like the finger-licking mithai, pera, parsaad and vermicelli.
Families will mostly prepare food at home for when guests arrive to exchange gifts and watch fireworks. The Hindu philosophy places great emphasis on cultivating strong bonds with one’s community, through a host of traditions.
Guyana’s Indian community celebrates Deepavali with floats lit with hundreds of thousands of twinkling lights of all colours. This procession of lights is commonly known as a motorcade and it has become an annual feature in Guyana.
The highly-anticipated event is held in the Demerara County, with similar ones being rolled out prior to this in Berbice and Essequibo. The annual grand Diwali Motorcade, which sees participants from across the country, is slated for the eve of Deepavali (November 09th).
Festival organisers seek that in doing so, Indian culture can be preserved. But it is not only the Hindus that participate in the festivities; Deepavali has truly made itself a ‘Guyanese’ festivity.
People start preparing many weeks in advance by renovating or at least by whitewashing/painting their homes, making major purchases, decorating their homes, doing shopping for everything that adds to the vibrancy and praying for the well-being of their family and the world.
On the day, Guyanese are often immersed in the distribution of sweets, illuminating the inside and outside of the house and exchanging greetings. The celebrations hold special significance for the people of Guyana for the distribution of sweets signifies the importance of serving and sharing, whereas exchange of greeting cards denotes the goodwill of each other.
The tradition of wearing new clothes for the people of Guyana is significant especially in Diwali festival. They believe that wearing new clothes is the symbol of healthy souls in healthy bodies. Cleaning of their homes and keeping them well illuminated in and outside is a practice meant to illuminate the road for Goddess Lakshmi.
This is done so that while Goddess Lakshmi visits their home she faces no problem of light as the Diwali night is regarded as the darkest night of the year.
To the businessman, Diwali means brisk business, just as to the clay potter, Diwali is the occasion of the year when the bulk of his sales are made.
Diwali became a time for them to change their annual accounting books as their new year starts with Diwali. This is the reason why Diwali is also the festival of Goddess Lakshmi, who personifies prosperity and wealth. Lakshmi pujas are held in most Hindu homes.
However, Diwali is not just about illuminating houses and paths. Persons must ignite the divine light within and let it radiate outward, so that it touches all those we come across, as is the belief of Hindus.
The Indian Action Committee (IAC), formerly the Indian Arrival Committee, will be hosting a Ram Leela and Cultural Presentation at Arthur Chung Convention Centre, Liliendaal, Greater Georgetown on November 14. There, patrons will be treated to cultural presentations, drama, singing and Indian delicacies.

Article Categories:
Culture · Issue 19 · Publication · Tourism and Culture

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