Diwali- Celebrating The Triumph Of Good Over Evil

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Deepavali, more popularly known as Diwali, is arguably the one holiday which, not only seeks to unite persons of all creeds and backgrounds, but celebrates the universal principle that good always conquers evil. It is this very principle that strikes at the core of one’s intrinsic love for mankind and the desire for the world to be a much better place.
The rich history and spiritually binding powers of this holiday are just two of its many qualities that make it so beloved and sacred in many culturally diverse societies.
In fact, this Hindu Festival of Lights is celebrated as a holiday not only in Guyana, but in countries such as India, Fiji, Pakistan, Malaysia, Nepal, Singapore, Trinidad and Tobago, Myanmar, Suriname and a few others as well.
The festival is celebrated during autumn for those in the north, and spring for those in the south, occurring concurrently with each other.
On the Hindu calendar, it is celebrated on the 15th day of the Hindu month of Kartik, described as the darkest night of that month. That day this year will be the 30th of October on the standard Gregorian calendar.
Spiritually, Diwali does not just signify good over evil, but also the concepts of knowledge over ignorance and hope over despair.
Now why exactly do we celebrate Diwali?
There are actually many reasons why people celebrate the festival, but the story of Lord Rama and Sita is perhaps the most cited reason by many.
The story tells of the exile of Lord Rama, one of the avatars or incarnations of Lord Vishnu, from his home for 14 years by his father, King Dasratha, who was the ruler of the Kingdom of Ayodhya.
His exile was not one without reason, as his stepmother, Queen Kaikeyi, wanted her sons to become Kings instead of Dasratha’s eldest sons, Rama and Lakshmana.
Using her power as queen, she coerced the King to force his two sons into exile. With goodness in their hearts and not wanting to disobey their father, Rama and Lakshmana moved, along with Rama’s wife, Sita, to live in the forest.
It so happened that one day as Sita was out walking in the forest, the demon king, Ravana, passed in his flying chariot and looked upon her beauty and wanted her in his palace.
This urge he could not resist and so kidnapped the fair damsel and took her to his palace where he put her among his other attendants.
After finding out about the treachery of the demon king, Lord Rama and Lakshmana set out to free her, along the way encountering Lord Hanuman.
Lord Hanuman was immediately able to recognize Lord Rama’s divinity and pledged his allegiance to him and his cause. After many trials and tribulations, Lords Rama, Hanuman and Lakshmana finally entered the demon kingdom.
With the aid of a great monkey army led by Lord Hanuman, Rama and Lakshmana faced off against Ravana and his army of demons.
After a fierce, seemingly endless battle, Lord Rama and his allies were successful in defeating the demon king and his army. They were then able to rescue Sita and returned home with her.
It was a great time for celebration as no one had to worry about the ravages of the demons, and finally the rightful king was back. The night of their return was the darkest and so persons far and wide lit oil lamps to guide them on their way home.
The story varies in different locations but the same concept applies to each. The lights that are seen on the nights of Diwali are to signify the lights placed hundreds of years ago in front of houses and yards to light the way for the return of Lord Rama.
This story, along with all of the traditions surrounding Diwali, became part of Guyana’s rich, cultural fabric. They were brought here by East Indians who came to Guyana as indentured labourers and worked on the sugar plantations after slavery was abolished.
Hundreds of years ago, there were no open celebrations of Diwali. Instead, it was just celebrated in the confines of logies in small scanty villages.
These were the efforts made by the East Indians of that time to preserve their culture, their religion and heritage. They made much with the little that they had.
During the Diwali celebrations today, there can be seen, intricate diyas and all manner of lamps. But the modern configurations of these pieces are in stark contrast to the ones used by Guyana’s indentured labourers in the humble beginnings.
Indentured immigrants painstakingly collected globs of mud and amorously crafted individual diyas from them. They either baked them in the sun or, for those who were privileged enough, used a makeshift furnace.
Back then, every diya was a little work of art and signified then, as it still does today, the fueling of the flame of hope. Each diya, for the immigrants, was a reminder of home and the peace of their culture.
Their celebrations, in comparison to now, were simple. Small amounts of diyas were lit and placed in front of logies as dusk approached.
The occupants of each house were keen to keep each and every one lit until it was time to sleep. And even after that, there was the hope that nature was kind enough to keep the winds at a minimum so that the lamps were kept lit throughout the night. Resources were low, but the best there was to eat was provided for everyone. Neighbours shared with each other and a feeling of harmony was fostered through the happiness of the celebrations.
Why, then, did our ancestors work so hard to preserve this specific festival?
The answer lies in the main deity of the festival, Lakshmi. Lakshmi, according to the Hindu texts, is the goddess of wealth, good tidings and prosperity.
Some texts go as far as describing her as the goddess of good luck and great blessings. It is for this very reason that the East Indians clung to their faith, keeping the hope that she would bless them and keep them from ill fate.
It was their hope that she would drive away her negative counterpart, Alakshmi, the goddess of ill-will, from their lives.
Since those days, the worship of Maha Lakshmi has been the main focus. He who partakes in the festival, performs what is known as Lakshmi Puja, a prayer to Maha Lakshmi, and asks for her blessings for both material and spiritual fulfilment.
In honour of this puja (prayer), it is not uncommon to find persons rigorously cleaning their houses and decorating them with fairy lights and flowers of all colours, even a month before the actual day.
This is significant because Maha Lakshmi only enters a home that is clean and inviting. Persons would often tend to begin the observation of a vegetarian fast and abstinence from alcohol, as it is not just a clean house that Maha Lakshmi expects, but the clean hearts living in said house as well.
On the day of Diwali, families come together to cook the best vegetarian dishes and sweet meats that they could afford. These are often times distributed to neighbours as well as friends and families in other areas, in keeping with what was done in the past.
Additionally, the members of a practicing Hindu home, after the day’s activities, would clean themselves off and get dressed in their best wear.
Together, they gather around in front of their Lakshmi murti at dusk, saying prayers and chanting mantras before coming out of the house to light their first diya.
Some persons choose to keep the amounts they light at a minimum, but there are others who choose a more elaborate quantity, thus adding to the spectacle of the evening.
In Guyana, it is not uncommon to find young persons spinning lit steel wool, a spectacle itself to the viewing eye. Explosives, sparkers and fireworks are common place and could be found being sold by stalls and shops countrywide.
Diwali has not remained confined to homes as it was before. Many commercial businesses and companies have adapted to the celebrations, especially around this time of year.
In fact, many businesses in Guyana have started to decorate with lights and signs in observation of the holiday. These act as an enhancement to the lit diyas on the night of the holiday, thus adding to the brightness and general aesthetics of the surroundings.
Another tradition unique to Guyana is the annual countrywide Diwali Motorcade held by the Guyana Hindu Dharmic Sabha. This was started some 43 years ago and remains very popular to this day.
In fact, the Diwali Motorcade has become synonymous with the Diwali celebrations in Guyana.
In essence, the Motorcade features vehicles dressed up in lights and other decorations, along with portrayals of Maha Lakshmi, Lord Rama, Hanuman and other gods and goddesses.
Some even show reenactments of the Ramayan epic supplemented by bhajans and other instrumentations. The Motorcade started simply, with just a few vehicles and even horse carts. Although there was a decrease in 2015, 2016 promises to be the biggest Motorcade in 43 years.
On the eve of October 30, the Guyana Hindu Dharmic Sabha will be hosting the 43rd annual Diwali Motorcade.

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