Light is an important aspect of all our lives and often we only recognize the obvious forms derived from electricity and sunlight. Deepavali is an ancient Hindu Festival of Lights which celebrates the deeper meaning of light. Celebrated on the darkest night (Amawasya) of the Hindu month of Ashwin (October-November), the message of Deepavali is to eradicate darkness from the world filling each individual with self- illuminated light within. The differences of social standing, beliefs and wealth are forgotten, as the festival’s aim is to usher in rational thinking, wisdom, prosperity and ultimately equanimity and equality in society. Of all the Hindu festivals celebrated in Guyana, Deepavali is by far the most enthusiastically enjoyed by people of all walks of life;its magical and radiant touch creates an atmosphere of joy and festivity. It is firmly ensconced on the National calendar and all Guyanese look forward to the unique festivities and camaraderie associated with this festival. Deepavali, a Sanskrit word literally translates to mean a row of light. It is sometimes shortened to the more popular Diwali. The little clay lamps or diyas represent each individual and the collective efforts of all to light the diyas is a powerful way of vanquishing ignorance that subdues humanity dispelling darkness from every nook and cranny of the heart and land.
Diyas are made of mud or clay and shaped by hand or molds. Families in Berbice and Wakenaam have been making diyas for generations to supply stores and individuals. Locally made or fancy imported diyas filled with wax candles, cotton wicks and ghee can be bought from religious stores around the country.
How is Deepavali Celebrated in Guyana?
Deepavali, the festival of lights even today in this modern world is celebrated in the traditional manner. In Guyana, weeks before the actual day, people clean their homes thoroughly, fast and prepare for Lakshmi Puja. Maha Lakshmi, the Goddess of prosperity, light and wisdom is worshipped at this time. Puja or worship is done by all family members on Diwali night in Hindu homes prior to lighting
the diyas. In fact, the observances occur over a five day period. Two days preceding Diwali, one and then few diyas are lit to pray for longevity and to recognize the victory of Lord Krishna over the despot Narakasur. Many Hindus would also attend their mandirs (temples) on Diwali Day. Mandirs are scattered throughout the country and one can easily attend special Diwali puja wherever they find themselves on that day.
Homes are artistically and tastefully decorated for Diwali. Brightly colored torans (colourful hanging decorations) are hung from doorways. Intricately designed rangolis (coloured tracing with rice and flour) conspicuously placed in yards or entrances would greet visitors as they visit homes to exchange sweets and gifts. The traditional motifs used are considered auspicious and decorative. An Inter-faculty Rangoli competition is held every year a few days before Diwali at the University of Guyana. Huge and elaborate patterns are made on large open spaces with coloured rice, flour and even embellished with glitter dust! Houses twinkle with an abundance of fairy lights creatively draped on every available surface perfectly complimenting rows and rows of tiny diyas strategically placed to remove every tinge of darkness.
There are special streets in some villages where every house is aesthetically lit and large groups of people would be busy lighting
diyas to line the street and bridges of every home. Persons would continuously place the soaked cotton wicks and refill the diyas with oil to keep the lights blazing all through the night. Streets are lined with bamboo structures laden with diyas or festooned with electric lights. Passers by who flock the streets would be sure to receive little boxes or bags of Prasad (holy offering) or sweetmeats from the inhabitants.
Take a drive through Sheriff Street, Campbelville, Lamaha Gardens, Parika on the West Coast of Demerara or along the East Coast and East Bank of Demerara to view fabulously decorated homes. The Festivities for Diwali Perhaps the most spectacular events
which precede Diwali are the Guyana Hindu Dharmic Sabha’s countrywide motorcades. Many persons travel to Guyana annually to see this one of a kind parade each year. Designers, individuals, the corporate world and temple members would have spent weeks erecting huge, intricately lit steel and wooden structures, meticulously decorated and with flowers, yards of gorgeous fabric, glittering jewelry and elaborate backdrops onto various vehicles and huge low bed trailers. The result – a large number of stunning and breathtaking floats complete with thousands of lights of all kinds, extravagant designs and ornately dressed young people sitting still for hours depicting the various forms of god. The floats crawl slowly along various routes much to the delight of thousands of Guyanese and tourists who throng the roads every year for a glimpse of this fascinating parade. The biggest motorcade held on the eve of Diwali (October 16th) leaves the Shri Krishna Mandir, Campbelville at 6pm, moves from Sandy Babb Street, Kitty into J.B. Singh Road, then along the Seawall Road; the perfect spot to sit and view the floats. With darkness as the perfect backdrop, feast your eyes on the fantastic floats as you enjoy the cool Atlantic breeze of the seawall and then make your way to the LBI Community Centre ground, East Coast Demerara to join thousands there for an entertaining cultural programme of
dances, singing, skits and fashion. Make sure you sample tasty seven curry spreads, spicy achars with phoulori, potato balls and
channa not forgetting an array of sweets to make the mouth water; gulab jamun, barfi, pera. Why not take some home for the
For those who want the full motorcade experience you can travel to Oceanview, West Coast Demerara, spend the day in Berbice and enjoy motorcades in Upper Corentyne and West Berbice, choose to stay on in Berbice for motorcades at the Albion Sports Complex and Canje Ground or take the ferry to the Anna Regina Community Centre Ground Essequibo for the motorcade there. Whatever you do, you cannot miss the biggest national event at this time of the year.
However, amidst all this frenzy of shopping, decorating and eating, the steady, burning lamp is a constant symbol of an illuminated
mind and the triumph of good over evil.