The custom of celebrating Diwali in Guyana has been retained with the strong traditions I observed in the villages of India. Diwali was celebrated with fervour, gaiety and utmost joy in India as I observed during my travels in the country during this festive period.
It was a most awe inspiring and spectacular festival in India. Each town or region has its own unique festivity for the occasion (with its own distinct type of foods and sweets) with people well attired in traditional clothing. But deyas and electronic lights are common to the festival, with buildings, streets, vehicles, and temples brilliantly illuminated with electronic lights.
I was most fortunate to spend pre-Diwali (Chota Diwali) on the banks of the holy Sirju River in Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh state, from where most indentured labourers came to Guyana, the Caribbean and other parts of the globe. Ayodhya is the holy city where Lord Ram was born and from where he was exiled (sent into Banbas for 14 years) and whose return to the city led to the creation of Diwali; hundreds of thousands visit the city daily for pilgrimage. In addition to Ayodhya, I visited several other towns and villages from where Indo-Guyanese were recruited as indentured labourers. The customs and practices related to Diwali are similar to those in Guyana among the people of Uttar Pradesh. As in Guyana and the US, houses are clean and spruced up with new materials and bartan (wares for meal preparation) and well lit on that day. People illuminate their houses with coloured lights and earthen lamps, and celebrate with fervour and euphoria, filling their stomachs with traditional vegetarian meals and sweets.
In Ayodha, there was a massive pre-Diwali celebration on Wednesday organized with the assistance of the Vice Chancellor, Manoj Dixit, of Avadh University where I was an official guest. The Chief Minister (CM) Yogi Adityanath and Governor Ram Naik were the Chief guests. The CM is the elected head and the Governor is the constitutional head of the state. The Ayodhya celebration was called the grand ‘Deepotsav’. It was the biggest Diwali celebration ever in the town since the time of Lord Rama. I was fortunate to receive a VIP invitation from the organizers with an upfront view of the stage where aarti was performed.
It was a magnificent spectacle in the evening with some 200,000 lit deyas and millions of colourful electronic lights on the banks of the river. The various earthen deyas and the electric lights lit up the night sky and could be seen from miles away. This was followed by magnificent fireworks. Sparkle flares were also set off during the night there and on the rooftops of homes.
Before the evening came alive with beautiful lights, there was a parade of skits (on floats) recreating scenes from the Ramayana. Actors depicting Lord Rama, Goddess Sita and Prince Laxman landed on a helicopter and walked the procession route. International artistes performed the Ram Leela at the Ram Katha Park, a two-mile stretch of open seating on the bank of the river. Thousands were at the park.
Separately, the auspicious period of Diwali was celebrated all over Uttar Pradesh and the country in a similar fashion to Guyana. As in the Caribbean and USA, people clean, renovate and decorate their homes, while women and young girls make rangoli and creative patterns with varied colours on the ground, which is also a custom in New York among Hindus.
As among Guyanese Hindus in America, Diwali in India is a period when families reunite and exchange gifts and sweets with each other. People gifted sweets and other things, including jewellery, murtis, clothing, etc to their loved ones and neighbours. Oil lamps were lit and crackers were burst to celebrate the festive season. As is the custom in Guyana or New York, lit deyas were seen in front of homes and businesses two nights before Diwali as well as on Diwali evening.