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By PAT DIAL
Kaieteur News – This year Diwali falls on 24th October. The dates on which Diwali falls differ from year to year since Diwali, like all Hindu and Muslim holy days and Easter, uses the Lunar calendar. Holidays which fall on specific dates of the year such as, for example, Christmas or Indian Arrival Day use the Solar calendar.
Phagwah and Diwali were celebrated some 5000 years ago in the Bronze Age and are among the most ancient holy days celebrated in the world. As all ancient holy days progress over the centuries, various traditions, legends and anniversaries become attached to them but these differences in their perceived origins do not negate their authenticity.
Diwali came to Guyana with the Indian Indentured immigrants in the 19th century and its celebration was confined to the Indian community. It was only extended to the rest of the country after Independence when it was made a public holiday.
In Guyana, three main traditions are associated with Diwali: The first and most important is the return of Lord Rama from his exile to his kingdom of Ayodhya; the second is the birth and presence of Maha Lakshmi; and the third is the slaying of the demon Naraksura.
King Dasratha who had ruled the prosperous and happy kingdom of Ayodhya had three queens and three sons. As the time drew for him to hand over his kingdom, the heir apparent was his eldest son Rama Chandra. Queen Kaiykeye however felt her son Bharat should succeed to the throne so she managed to manipulate the old king to send Ram into exile for 14 years. Ram, his wife Sita and younger brother Lakshman then departed to the deep and distant forests to be in exile.
Bharat was then given the responsibility to rule the Kingdom. Bharat was the epitome of nobility and integrity and decided that he would govern only in Ram’s name and never sat on the throne but placed Ram’s slippers on it.
While in the forest, the demoness Surpanakha took on the form of the most beautiful woman and offered to marry Ram who rejected her. She then went to Lakshman and was so insistent as to attack him; Lakshman cut off her nose. She returned to her brother Ravana, the great demon king of Lanka, who promised to avenge her and destroy Ram who represented the good. He went to Ram’s hut and abducted his wife Sita and took her away to Lanka. Ram was able to raise an army with the help of Hanuman, crossed to Lanka, defeated and killed Ravana, rescued Sita and returned to his forest abode. The 14 years of exile was about to end and Ram returned to Ayodhya. The people of Ayodhya rejoiced that their beloved king had returned and to welcome him, all houses were illuminated and every street and path was lined with diyas and there was feasting and the exchange of choice sweetmeats. This first Diwali was perpetuated every year.
The next important tradition is that of Lakshmi Mata, Mother Lakshmi. Diwali marks the birth of Lakshmi and more importantly, her visitation on Diwali night to homes which are well cleaned and illuminated ensuring that devotees would enjoy economic prosperity in the coming year and increase of knowledge. Many successful business folk begin their accounts on Diwali. The icon of Lakshmi has one of her hands holding a pen signifying knowledge and another has a steady flow of gold coins emanating from it indicating economic prosperity.
The third popular tradition in Guyana is that Diwali celebrates the slaying of the demon Naraksura by Krishna. In some accounts, it is Satyabhama, the incarnation of Mother Earth who slays him. The dying Naraksura became repentant for his wicked life and requested that his death be celebrated with illuminations and festivity and this incident was attributed to be an origin of Diwali. In Guyana, the Naraksura tradition is not strong in contrast to India, especially South India, where it is a pervasive tradition.
Diwali, like all Hindu holy days, always convey high moral and ethical lessons. It teaches the triumph of The Good over The Evil; the darkness of ignorance will always be overcome by the light of knowledge; and that economic prosperity and wealth must be respected and cultivated and shared as Maha Lakshmi shares gold coins in an unending flow to the world.
As mentioned above, the celebration of Diwali was confined to the Indian community and was only extended to other communities when it was declared a Public Holiday after Independence. The Minister of Education immediately before Independence was Mr. Brindley Benn and he appointed a History and Arts Council under the chairmanship of Ms. Lynette Dolphin with Patrick Dial as her deputy. The History and Arts Council was responsible for much of the activities which the Ministry of Culture now performs. The first project the Council undertook was to reform the holiday structure of the country and Patrick Dial was appointed to chair the sub-committee to do this. As head of the National Archives, he and his sub-committee produced a Report which recommended Ramnaumi, Diwali and Phagwah as Hindu holidays and Eid-ul-Ahza, Eid-ul-Fitr and Youman Nabi as Muslim holidays. Before the Parliamentary Committee could consider the Report, the PPP government went out of office and was succeeded by the PNC. The PNC government omitted Ramnaumi and Eid-ul-Fitr and the only serious disagreement of the PPP Opposition and the Muslim community had with the PNC was that Eid-ul-Fitr should replace Youman Nabi. The Government did not agree, and the new holiday structure was passed into Law by Parliament with bipartisan support. This new holiday structure was an integrative force in the society and the original History and Arts Council Report had emphasized this.
Diwali celebrations have been improving with each year. It kicked off last Sunday with the Diwali lightup by President Irfaan Ali at Rahaman’s Park and its usual programmes of illumination and decoration of homes and shops; its Ms. Diwali Queen contests; the exchange of tastefully prepared food and sweetmeats; Diwali music heard everywhere; diyas everywhere; fireworks turning the skies into a dreamland of colour and light; noisy squibs and crackers; home pujas and services at the mandirs; children enjoying the festivities and atmosphere which will be cherished as among life’s most joyous experiences; and a centerpiece of it all – the colourful, artistic illuminated float parade winding its way through the streets and attracting thousands of spectators from all classes, races and religions. Diwali, like Christmas, has proved itself the most enjoyable, satisfying and socially integrative of Guyanese festivals.
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