Diwali - dispelling the darkness of negativity
Diwali, also referred to as Deepavali or Dipavali, is the Hindu festival of lights, which is celebrated between mid-October and mid-November every year.
This festival is usually associated with Hinduism, but it is also celebrated by Sikhs and Jains for a variety of reasons.
The festival originated in the Indian subcontinent and is mentioned in early Sanskrit texts. It was later introduced to the Caribbean by East Indian indentured labourers who migrated to the Caribbean while under colonial rule in search of better circumstances.
Although the festival is not observed and celebrated on a grand scale in Jamaica, it is recognised as a national holiday in Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana.
The preparations, and rituals for the festival typically last for five days, with the climax occurring on the third day, coinciding with the darkest night of the Hindu lunisolar month, which is called Kartika.
The word Diwali was taken from the Sanskrit word dipavali, which translates to 'row of lights'. The festival of Diwali, which coincides with the Hindu New Year, represents the spiritual victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance. It is also meant to celebrate new beginnings.
As mentioned, other faiths outside of Hinduism celebrate the occasion. Each faith has its own reason to celebrate, and according to J.C Jha, there are many legends about the origin of the festival of Diwali. However, the most popular story among the Hindus of the Caribbean is the tale of the homecoming of Lord Rama, the hero of the Ramayana and the incarnation of God Vishnu.
Since Ayodhya (an ancient Indian city) was cleansed and illuminated to welcome Rama, his wife, Sita, his brother, Lakshman and their supporters after an exile of fourteen years in the 15th century BC.
Before the celebrations begin, Hindus and people of other faiths prepare for the occasion by cleaning their houses, surroundings, and places of worship. This is why there is a misconception that Diwali is the Hindu Christmas.
While Diwali is celebrated in different ways by different groups, some of the characteristics that they share include the sharing of gifts and greetings. Along with the sharing of food such as vegetarian-dal, rice, curried-aloo (potato), pumpkin and sweets such as Mohan Bhog, Kheer, Gulaab Jamun, and fruits.
The defining feature of Diwali is the lighting of earthenware lamps called diyas. These lamps, like the one pictured, are made of clay and are filled with ghee or vegetable oils and are lit with a wick.
On Sunday, November 11, 2018, the Sanatan Dharma Mandir (Temple) located at 114B Hagley Park Road, hosted their annual Diwali celebrations, which was led by Errol Johnson.
Johnson emphasised on the importance of showing love to everyone, including our enemies. He also stressed the fact that in today's world, society is experiencing extreme moral darkness and that we should use the occasion of Diwali to reflect on our actions and remove the moral darkness within each of us. we should aim to be like the light of the diya, which though the light flickers to and fro the light remains and illuminates its surroundings, no matter how dark.
It is interesting to note that the temple was built in 1970 by Pandit Munaeshwar Maragh. It is a place of worship and a tangible reminder of Jamaica's Indian connection, which began in 1845.
Prior to its erection, many worshipped in their homes, gathering for special celebrations, particularly in Clarendon, Westmoreland, St Mary, and St Thomas. The site was chosen to accommodate the many Indians living in nearby Coburn Gardens. Today, the Mandir is open daily, with services offered every Sunday at 10 a.m.
Did you know?
The Sanatan Hindu Temple is the only Indian temple recognised by the Jamaican Government.
British Broadcasting Company. (November 9, 2018). What is Diwali?
J.C Jha (1976). The Hindu Festival of Diwali in the Caribbean. Caribbean Quarterly Vol 22 No1.
R. Tortello (December 5, 2005). Kingston's Historic and Diverse Places of Worship Religious Icons. Jamaica Gleaner.
- Information compiled by Sharifa Balfour, assistant curator, National Museum Jamaica