Guyana, a small third-world country in South America is made up of six main ethnic groups – Amerindian, Chinese, East Indian, African, Portuguese and Europeans. This is primarily due to the British-era colonialization of land and the use of laborers from different parts of the world to work on the sugar plantations. For a small country, Guyana is very diverse. Learning about culture, values and traditions of our people had been a great passion of mine growing up. It gives me great pleasure as a member of the BRIDGES Asian BERG and the Ambulatory Services Diversity and Health Equity Committee to share with everyone, the culture and traditions of one of the main religions in Guyana – Hinduism through its largest and festive holiday celebration of Diwali.
Diwali is a celebration enjoyed not only by Hindus but also Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists. The significance of Diwali is different for each religion. For Hindus, Diwali is as important as the Christmas holiday is to Christians. Diwali is derived from the root word Deepavali which means “row of lights”. The festival is celebrated worldwide in October/November depending on the cycle of the moon (new moon). The common theme of the significance of Diwali is the triumph of good over evil or the destruction of all negative qualities – violence, anger, fear, jealousy, greed, etc, to embrace more positive ones. Diwali celebrates the inner light that protects us from spiritual darkness.
In Guyana, India and around the world, Diwali is celebrated by lighting clay lamps or diyas to signify light over darkness or good over evil. Hindus celebrate the return of the Hindu God Rama to his kingdom after 14 years in exile. They light diyas as a sign of welcome and tribute to Rama. Additionally, during Diwali, Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth is believed to enter one’s homes to give them good fortune and prosperity for the year.
The celebration of Diwali is always a festive one. Growing up, we had to always spring clean our home because if we didn’t, it is believed that the Goddess Lakshmi will not enter our home and bring good fortune. We bought new clothes to wear, lit hundreds of diyas and made lots of sweet and savory snacks. The best part of Diwali for me was visiting friends and family and sharing the holiday with them regardless of their religion. It always gave me this sense of warmth and togetherness to be with everyone – family and friends that did celebrate Diwali and the ones that didn’t. Today, Diwali celebrations at our home in the United States are the same like they were in Guyana. And my favorite part – we still invite our non-Hindu neighbors, friends and family to participate in the festivities and educate everyone about the significance of Diwali. This year, I gave each of my team members a diya to light in their homes for good fortune and prosperity and brought in an assortment of sweets for them to savor!
May the light of the diya bring you and your family happiness, joy, good fortune, prosperity and success always! Happy Diwali to all!