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Diwali – the Festival of Lights

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Photo by Amanda Richards

First Published on the 26th of October, 2016 by Patrick Carpen.

Last updated: November 6, 2021 at 17:10 pm

Diwali, also called Deepavali, is one of the biggest and most auspicious festivals celebrated by Hindus in Guyana and around the world. The five-day long festival starts with Dhanteras and culminates with Bhai Dooj. Diwali marks the start of the Hindu New Year. The date of Diwali, which is determined by the position of the moon, changes each year, but usually falls somewhere between October and November.

Diwila, also called the “festival of lights,” is celebrated by Guyana’s Hindu population every year in the country of Guyana, South America. Non-Hindus also take part in the celebrations but to a lesser extent. The day is observed as a national holiday for the Guyanese people. The exact date of Diwali is not fixed but the holiday falls late October or early November each year. For example, in the year 2019, the date given for Diwali was the 27th of October, and in 2021 the date for Diwali was 4th of November.

Diwali is called the “Festival of Lights” for good reason. During the evening of the Diwali holiday, diyas are set alight. Diyas are tiny lamps made out of clay and fitted out with a wick. The diya is fueled by oil, and it burns for about 4 to 6 hours before going out. Lighting up steelwool and spinning it to create sparks is also a common practice during Diwali night.

Diwali is a Hindu tradition. During Colonial days, when the British ruled Guyana, the plantation owners contracted East Indians from India to work as laborers on the sugar plantations. Most of these East Indians were Hindus and some were Muslims. Upon arrival in Guyana, many East Indians converted to Christianity through British influence, but others retained their religion and culture even to this day. On a Diwali evening, the boundless quantities of diyas scattered across the whole country light up the fact that the Hindu religion and tradition is very much alive in Guyana.

On the evening of Diwali night, Hindus bring out their diyas and line them up on benches outside of the front yards, along verandah rails, on the fences, along the passageways to the gates and even along the roadways. As soon as darkness falls, the diyas are fired up. The spectacle of diyas on a Diwali night is breathtaking, and many families of all religions and cultures would cruise across the country to view this rare and splendid sight.

The Story Behind Diwali

Photo by Amanda Richards

Diwali has its roots in Hindu teachings. According to Hindu religious texts, Prince Ram and his wife, Seeta, were banished from the kingdom and sent to live in a forest by his stepmother who wanted to secure the throne for her own son, Bharata. While in the forest, the demon god, Ravana, kidnapped Seeta and took her away. With the help of the Hindu god Hanoman, Prince Ram located Seeta and waged a dreadful battle against Ravana. Ravana was killed and Ram and Seeta made their way home. People were so overjoyed at Ram’s victory and return that as he and Seeta walked through the kingdom, they lit the way with so many lamps that the lamps were said to outnumber the stars in the sky. Sweet foods were also shared to all the households.

The Hindu tradition of lighting diyas and sharing sweet foods on the day Diwali is meant to remember the return of Ram and Seeta to the kingdom after being banished for 14 years, but more importantly, it is meant to celebrate the victory of good over evil and light over darkness.

The Diwali Motorcade

The Diwali Motorcade is an annual tradition that takes place on the evening before Diwali in Guyana, South America. In addition to lighting diyas and spinning steelwool, mandirs across Guyana take part in a motorcade activity which is considered a prelude to Diwali.

Small trucks are decorated as chariots and lighted up with fancy lights, and young Hindu women chosen for their exceptional beauty are decorated and attired as Hindu goddesses. They sit on top of the vehicles with their feet folded and one hand held up midway with palm facing outward as the motorcade makes it way to a central location such as a sports complex. The young women are admired for their beauty and outfit as well as their ability to hold themselves in a stationary position, hardly even blinking, until they reach their destination.

Scene from the Diwali Motorcade which is usually held in the night preceeding
Diwali. Photos courtesy of Gordon Smith and Kevin Somwaru. See below for more pictures.
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