Feuding over Diwali date is helping to bring Hinduism into disrepute in Guyana

Dear Editor,

With Diwali approaching, once again pandits in Guyana are feuding in the print media over the correct date of the public holiday to celebrate this auspicious festival. This is now a regular and predictable occurrence.

I was born in an orthodox Hindu home and grew up in Guyana in the 1950s and 1960s. In those days there were many learned pandits, some like the Chowbay brothers of Golden Grove, E.C.D. and Radhakrishna Sharma of Central Mahaicony, E.C.D., who were trained in the Sanskrit language and Hindu rituals at Hindu centres of learning in Varanasi (Benares), India, the Hindu equivalent of the Vatican for Catholics.

As far as I can recall, in those days there was never any dispute over the dates for celebrating these festivals. I am sure these men of yesteryear had to deal with all the arguments and counterarguments we now hear for one date or another, yet they were able to compromise and come to a unanimous decision.

In 1962, thanks to then Leader of the Opposition, Mr LFS Burnham, who introduced a motion in the Legislature to grant public holiday status for certain Hindu and Muslim auspicious days, four days (two for Hindus and two for Muslims) are now recognized annually as public holidays.

To me, the regular feuding we now observe is due to either or both of two factors. These are (a) individual’s ego, i.e. each person trying to show he is more knowledgeable than his opponent, and (b) political allegiance, i.e. which individual or group supports the Government of the day and therefore is able to influence the date to be selected as the public holiday. Regardless of their motivation, these pandits seem to be missing the bigger picture. This feuding is embarrassing to Hindus and is helping to bring Hinduism into disrepute in Guyana.

The table below shows the percent change in the major religious groups in the country from 1991 to 2012.


Based on the above, Hindus as a percent of the population in Guyana have decreased from 35.5% in 1991 to 25% in 2012, a decline of 10.5% which is the biggest decline of all the religious groups in the country. Now, it must be recognized that this feuding is not the only or primary reason for the decline in Hinduism. Yet, I believe it is a contributory factor and shows a disconnect between the priority of the pandits and that of their followers. Pandits and Hindu leaders, if they want to keep Hinduism alive, need to wake up to this reality, determine the causative factors for the decrease, and take corrective actions.

At a time when social ills such as alcoholism and suicide are so prevalent among Indians (the majority being Hindus) and pandits and Hindu leaders are giving scant attention to these, it is no wonder that Hinduism is losing followers at the most rapid rate.

It is not my intention to belittle the importance of celebrating Hindu auspicious days on the most appropriate dates, and every effort must be made to ensure this is done. However, it is up to the Hindu leaders and the pandits to have unanimity, as their ancestors did in the earlier times, and then advise the Government of the day. In the absence of consensus, each faction is free to observe its preferred date which may or may not be the same as the official public holiday.

This is not the ideal solution but for the sake of Hinduism, I implore these pandits to cease their public feuding over these religious holidays.

In India, the birthplace of Hinduism and the home of the foremost authorities on the religion, North Indian states will be celebrating the upcoming Diwali festival on October 30th whereas South Indian states will be celebrating on October 29th.

What this suggests is that there is flexibility in deciding on the date and, in Guyana where the Indian approach is not feasible, compromise is needed. Certainly the recurring public infighting is not conducive to the furthering of Hinduism in the country.

Yours faithfully,

Harry Hergash

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