Diwali Celebrations in Guyana

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This article was first published on the 27th of October 2019 by Patrick Carpen.

Last updated: April 24, 2020 at 2:33 am
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.

Diwila, also called the “festival of lights,” is celebrated by Guyana’s Hindu population every year. The day is observed as a national holiday for the Guyanese people. The exact date of Diwali is not fixed but the holiday falls around the month of October each year. For example, in the year 2019, the date given for Diwali was the 27th of October.

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.

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 the 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.

But what is the story behind Diwali? I do not know much about it, but I was told that it has something to do with a Hindu god and goddess being separated from each other. On Diwali nights, the Hindus are thought to be helping the Hindu god Ram, find his beloved goddess Seeta.

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