Two aspects of celebrating Divali in Trinidad and Tobago By: Shivam Rampersad
November 12, 2023

Deepaavali or Divali as the festival is more popularly called is widely phrased as “The Festival of lights.” The festival is celebrated on the fifteenth night which represents the darkest fortnight in the Hindu month of “Kaartik”, which coincides with the period October-November on the Gregorian calendar.

While there are many stories associated with the origin of the festival in Hindu scriptures, Trinidad and Tobago and the Hindu community worldwide commemorate the festival with Lakshmi Puja (prayers of the Goddess Lakshmi). The reason behind this is that; Goddess Lakshmi (also called: Mother Lakshmi, Lakshmi Mata or Lady Lakshmi) is the Hindu Goddess of Light, Wealth and Prosperity. Thus, since the word “Deepaavale” is derived from the Sankrit word “Deep” which meets light, it is only appropriate that the Goddess of light herself is venerated. One story from Hindu scripture tells of the appearance of the Goddess Lakshmi from the celestial ocean “Samundramanthana” on Divali day.

Lakshmi Puja Performed on Divali
Source: Shivam Rampersad

Most of the celebrations that commemorate the festival take place in Trinidad where the Indo-Trinidadian ethnicity accounts for 40% of the population (Discover Trinidad And Tobago, 2018). One can experience many Divali Celebrations from various cultural clubs and the business sector prior to the actual Divali Days. These celebrations usually take place in the open environment such as: in the street or Recreational Grounds which are transformed into festival centres, with their display of traditional Indian decorations consisting of colourful garlands and spectacular light displays. During the night of the celebrations, traditional small clay lamps called “Deeyas” are lit; sometimes these Deeyas are mounted on bamboo branches that are split into halves and bent into intricate designs or the Deeyas are placed at even distance along pathways and walls creating bright aisles of flickering lights.

Platter with Meethi For Lakshmi Puja on Divali Day
Source: Shivam Rampersad

The celebrations also include singing of Hindu Hymns called Bhajans and even appropriate “Bollywood” Film songs are rendered by local singing groups and orchestras. Indo-Trinidadian cuisine in various forms is served, most common being Roti (flat bread) and Talkari (curried vegetables or beans), and different types of Indian deserts collectively called “sweets or Meethi” are also a treat. At most events the wearing of traditional Indian garments such as Sarees (female wear) and Kurtas (male wear) is encouraged with the hosts of these events offering lucrative prizes for “Best dressed” male and female and even going as far as crowning a Divali King and Queen. These celebrations usually culminate with a grand display of fireworks which light up the night sky and bring much joy to the children and spectators.

Male Indian Wear and Bamboo Craft with Deeyas
Source: Shivam Rampersad

While Divali is a five-day festival, only two of these days are celebrated with a grand affair in Trinidad: the third day which is the public holiday and known as Divali and the fourth day which is called Goverdhana Puja.

Interior Decorations inside homes for Divali
Source: Shivam Rampersad

The third day which is commonly known as Divali is the day Lakshmi Puja will be performed. On this day Hindus celebrate at home by lighting deeyas, using decorative lights and garlands. The decorations may also include beautiful designs called “Rangoli” made of coloured rice, flowers or simply paint or chalk drawn on the floor. On this night, it is a common belief that the divine spirit of Mother Lakshmi will visit the homes and as such all the preparations in and around the home and of meals and delicacies are done with the hope of appeasing the Goddess. On this day people ask each other’s forgiveness for wrongs committed, relationships amongst family and friends and neighbours are mended or reinforced, gifts and sweets are exchanged, and toys and new clothing are given to children. While the grounds are bejeweled with incandescent flickering lights, the skies are lit with flares or fireworks and the air is filled with much excitement with the exclamation of wows and laughter among children and adults akin.

Rangoli Decoration on the floor made from flowers, done by Shivam Rampersad
Source: Shivam Rampersad

The fourth day of Divali known as Govardhan Puja is mainly celebrated as an agrarian festival which pays homage to a sacred mountain called Govardhana (which still exists today in Vrindaavana, India). According to Hindu scripture, paying respect to the mountain and by extension nature was recommended by Lord Krishna when he instructed the locals of the area to honour Mount Goverdhana, from whom they received shelter for themselves and nourishment for their cows and other livestock. Since Vrindaavan is located in the Uttar Pradesh state of North India where most of the Indentured labourers came from 178 years ago to work on the sugar and cocoa plantations, the custom associated with this day of Divali is practiced by many Hindus across Trinidad. The International Society of Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), known colloquially as; “The Hare Krishnas” has flagged this event as one of their major festivals. While the locals will usually replicate Mount Govardhana with a hill made from dirt and grass, the ISKCON Movement replicated Mt. Govardhana with much more extravagances by making an edible mountain of various Indian sweets to include a detailed topography of the mountain’s ponds, valleys, vegetation and even houses and livestock.

Mt. Govardhan made from edible Indian sweets “Meethi” made by ISKCON Movement
Source: Shivam Rampersad

After the prayers, the mountain is then dismantled and the edibles are consumed in the grand feast that follows. On this night, it is not unusual to see some Hindus lighting Deeyas around the homes like the previous Divali night; just on a smaller scale.

While there are several origin stories of Divali and the celebration may vary in custom and days for the diverse Hindu sects in Trinidad, the triumph of light over darkness, good over evil, and the rekindling of good relations among all form the essence of this festival. The celebration and lights illuminate the hearts of every citizen of Trinidad and Tobago and at the end of every Divali, the hope and anticipation for a grander and more elaborate festival in the coming year is the expectation of all.

For more information on the history of Divali in Trinidad take a look at the following National Trust video by Dr Radica Mahase: The History of Divali from the Plantation to Present Day.

Maharaj Munelal. 1999.Jyotir Vigyaan. First Edition, Page 94-100). 1999 Pdt. Munelal Maharaj
Discover Trinidad and Tobago: 2018, “Divali: the festival of lights.”

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