Guyanese observed Diwali in New York
Stabroek News
November 20, 2001

Dear Editor,

Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, was observed by the large Guyanese population in New York on Wednesday evening with a magnificent display of deyas and electronic lights. An aura of celebration was in the air with the business districts well decorated comparable to Georgetown during Christmas.

One can feel the spirit of the holiday as many businesses closed early and people exchanged gifts and greetings. Love, goodwill, respect and peace were also in the air. Thousands visited the nearly fifty temples in the New York region to propitiate Goddess Laxmi who is worshipped during the festival.

The Diwali festival is fast becoming a mainstream celebration among Guyanese and other Hindus in New York. It is also celebrated on a grander scale than in Guyana. As in Guyana, Hindus take pride in displaying deyas outside of their homes and switching on various forms of electronic lights (including icicle and swag lights) attracting curious onlookers. And many Guyanese explain the significance of the festival to their friends and neighbors as well as to the onlookers who were eager to find out the reason for the display of Christmas lights so early before the season as well as the meaning of the lit deyas.

The Diwali celebration has been featured in several mainstream publications and more and more Americans are fast learning about it. Also, all of the ethnic publications featured stories about the festival and many businesses took out ads sending Diwali greetings to their Hindu clientele. Several politicians issued Diwali greetings which were published in the ethnic media as well as read to congregations of various temples.

Diwali is a time for selfless giving and sharing. As part of the celebration, many Guyanese prepared meals which were donated to homeless shelters to feed the poor. Some Guyanese also donated clothing for the homeless and offered contributions to food pantries. And many wrote cheques as donations to charities and to temples.

At dusk last Wednesday, in the Richmond Hill area where one hundred thousand Guyanese are settled, beautifully lit deyas were observed on both sides of the steps in front of homes and around the yards in a colourful display. Electronic lighting as well as decorations (as used in the Christmas season) added to the beauty of the celebration.

Traditionally, Hindus perform Maha Laxmi pooja on the night preceding the festival and on the evening of the festival. It is believed that whose who pray to Goddess Laxmi are rewarded with wealth and prosperity. Thus, after prayers and lighting deyas at home, thousands flocked to the mandir. The Maha Lahshmi Mandir, Shri Laxmi Mandir and the Trimurthi Mandir, all in Richmond Hill, were packed to the brim with many worshippers forced to stand outside. Thousands stood on line to make offering to their Goddess as the pundits read from the holy scriptures or the congregation engaged in choral singing of appropriate bhajans (songs) to mark the occasion. The soothing sound of the bhajans built a conducive environment for the celebration.

Unlike in Guyana where Diwali is a holiday, Guyanese had to work. Many said they missed the Guyanese spirit of the celebration which is done in a more traditional way and where they get a day to rest and relax and share with the family. Unlike in Guyana where they remain outdoor in the warm weather as well as visit each other's home, in New York, they have to be contented with staying indoors because of cold weather.

It was altogether a magnificent and joyous celebration at all of the mandirs and communities. The celebration speaks volumes for the acceptance of Hindu customs in New York City.

Yours faithfully,

Vishnu Bisram