Peace in Di­vali

Jamaica Gleaner - - @ISSUE -

on the dark­est night of the new moon, but it is ei­ther that the moon is darker on the other side of the At­lantic and In­dian oceans, or that our as­tronomers and politi­cians here are so be­nighted that they can’t tell one area of dark­ness from an­other.

In Guyana, the cel­e­bra­tion of Di­vali to­day, in­stead of to­mor­row, is an is­sue that the Hindu Dharmic Sabha is not tak­ing lightly. It ac­cused the min­is­ter of pub­lic se­cu­rity of im­pos­ing a date and seek­ing to per­pet­u­ate dis­cord within the Hindu com­mu­nity. I un­der­stand that there will be light in the heart of dark­ness since many peo­ple be­lieve the event is more im­por­tant than the date.

AN­I­MAL CEL­E­BRA­TION

The more mun­dane story of Di­wali is that it started as a har­vest fes­ti­val, which Wikipedia says “is an an­nual cel­e­bra­tion that oc­curs around the time of the main har­vest of a given re­gion”.

Given the dif­fer­ences in cli­mate and crops around the world, har­vest fes­ti­vals can be found at var­i­ous times at dif­fer­ent places. For ex­am­ple, in the Caribbean, each coun­try had the equiv­a­lent of a Crop Over fes­ti­val. The Grand Kadoo­ment in Bar­ba­dos is part of the Crop Over. When I was grow­ing up in Trinidad’s sugar belt, Crop Over was a ma­jor cel­e­bra­tion with of­fi­cial com­pe­ti­tions for the best dec­o­rated carts and bi­cy­cles, and un­of­fi­cial ones for who could drink the most rum. In fact, ev­ery day in the sugar belt was like that.

What goes un­no­ticed in the Caribbean is that Di­vali is also the be­gin­ning of the new fi­nan­cial year. Na­tional Ge­o­graphic ex­plains, “In­dia was an agri­cul­tural so­ci­ety where peo­ple would seek the divine bless­ing of Lak­shmi, the god­dess of wealth, as they closed their ac­count­ing books and prayed for suc­cess at the out­set of a new fi­nan­cial year. To­day this prac­tice ex­tends to busi­nesses all over the In­dian sub­con­ti­nent, which mark the day af­ter Di­vali as the first day of the new fi­nan­cial year.”

None of this mat­tered when I was young. For weeks be­fore Di­vali, we ‘fasted’ or stopped eat­ing meat, and some made the ul­ti­mate sac­ri­fice of giv­ing up al­co­hol. My father claimed that he stopped drink­ing, but his ruddy com­plex­ion al­ways gave him away. None of these things af­fected me since the food and lights were all I re­ally cared about.

Days be­fore the event, my father, un­cles, neigh­bours – the en­tire vil­lage in fact – were busy cut­ting and split­ting bam­boo poles with their sharp ma­chetes to shape ar­tis­ti­cally into arches on which lit­tle clay cups or lamps called ‘deyas’, filled with co­conut oil, were placed. At ex­actly six o’clock in the evening, the adults prayed and we fid­geted. As soon as they stopped, we en­thu­si­as­ti­cally lit the deyas, and af­ter a cur­sory sur­vey of the sur­round­ing com­pe­ti­tion, de­clared our dis­play the best and laid into the ar­ray of food on the din­ing ta­ble and the kitchen counter.

GOOD FRI­DAY

It never mat­tered to us in those days whether Good Fri­day fell on a Sun­day, so whether we had the right date was not an is­sue. What mat­tered was that the com­mu­nity – ev­ery race, colour and creed – cel­e­brated Di­vali to­gether.

When we moved to An­tigua in 2006, we opened our box of deyas that had trav­elled with us from Trinidad to Belize and then to An­tigua. Lights have al­ways been our big thing. Wher­ever

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