Diwali is celebrated by Hindus to signify the victories of light over darkness, good over evil, knowledge over ignorance and hope over despair. These victories were achieved by the return of Lord Rama, his wife Sita and brother Lakshman from fourteen years of exile. The lights are intended to illuminate the path of their return to Ayodhya. The event provides a time to emphasize both external and internal purity, extending goodwill and undertaking religious observances, all in aid of enlightenment. Apart from Lord Rama, other deities are also worshipped.
The above is a truncated explanation of an expansive, multi-religious, multi-faceted, autumn celebration that has deep historical roots and wide religious significance for about one and a half billion people. For example, it is not only Hindus, but also Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists who celebrate Diwali. Sikhs celebrate the release from prison of Guru Hargobind and 52 princes in 1619. Jains celebrate the anniversary of Lord Mahavir’s attainment of freedom from the cycle of reincarnation as well as his teachings on compassion, justice and the promotion of social, political and economic equity. Buddhists mark the occasion as the time when Emperor Ashoka converted to Buddhism.
The date on which Diwali is celebrated is based on a complex calculation by experts in Hinduism. (See Swami Askarananda’s letter in SN 28/10/15). South Indians and North Indians celebrate Diwali on different dates calculated in different ways. Even their spelling of the word is different – ‘Deepavali’ for South India, ‘Diwali’ for North India. For example, 7 states or territories, 5 in South India, are celebrating on November 10 and 29 states or territories, the overwhelming majority, are celebrating on November 11.
According to internet information, which I concede is not always reliable, the majority of overseas Indians follow the Indian practices, based on whether they or their foreparents originate in North or South India. The internet puts it in a manner more understandable by lay people.
“Deepavali is celebrated in South India in the states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Goa, Andhra Pradesh and by Indians living abroad with roots in South India. The date of calculation is based on the geographical location of Chennai (Tamil Nadu). It falls on … the lunar day before the new moon in the lunisolar calendar. Diwali is celebrated in North India and by the majority of Indians living abroad. Diwali is … in the Hindu calendar, a lunisolar calendar which is based on the positions of the moon and sun, calculated for the location of Allahabad (Uttar Pradesh) in India. It falls … on the new moon night …”
Determined from different locations, Chennai and Allahabad, and one falling on ‘the lunar day before the new moon,’ the other falling ‘on the new moon night,’ it follows that there would be two different dates. In Guyana we have traditionally followed the calculation of North India from where most Guyanese originate.
In relation to this matter Minister Ramjattan, who is authorized to designate the holiday, has adopted the same firmness with the head of the Guyana Hindu Dharmic Sabha (“GHDS”), Dr. Vindhya Persaud, as he has demonstrated with other matters in his portfolio. The Minister said that he took into account the views of many learned swamis and pandits and many sabhas. Dr. Persaud, in the Minister’s view, is not learned on the subject of dates, represents only one sabha and is a politician ‘pure and simple.’ His comments suggested that he gave short shrift to the substantial material and arguments submitted by her. The Minister ordered that “November the 10th it shall be.”
However, the Minister omitted to consider that the overwhelming majority of Hindus in Guyana would celebrate Diwali on the date suggested by the GHDS, which they support, regardless of the date he designates as the holiday. The Minister clearly opted for the Swami’s technical calculation based on the situation of Guyana, in conjunction with the sun and moon, according to the calendar utilised by the Swami, and has discarded what Hindus in Guyana have traditional done, namely, accept the date as calculated by North India which is embraced by GHDS, even though only a miniscule part of India is celebrating on the 10th.
The Minister might have considered the better option of placing the onus on the Hindu community and first ask it, including its largest and most popular organization, the GHDS, to agree on a date. Upon their failure to do so, he might then have considered what further steps to take, including mediation. There are others and there was time.
His imposition of a date, without taking that first step, is a most unwise decision for a government with only a 4000-vote majority. The stage is now set for an annual dispute with political overtones between the Government on the one side and the majority Hindu organization, the GHDS on the other, over the date for Diwali, when there was none before. Is this what the Government prefers?
In my investigations for this article I discovered that Delhi is listed in areas that are celebrating Diwali on both the 10th and 11th. If indeed Delhi has two days of holidays, why can’t Guyana settle the argument by having both the 10th and 11th as holidays too? After all, Guyana has two days for Easter and two days for Christmas.