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The Essence of Divali

Posted by admin On October - 16 - 2009  Print  Email  

by Susan Gosine

Soon it will be Divali, the mood, however, eludes me, like it has for the past ten years. I can’t shake the nostalgia at this time, especially, when as far back as I can recollect, in this month of Kartik, I’ve always been immersed in all things Divali. Only two weeks, before October 17. Would 2009 be different?

Perhaps, if society is miraculously transformed and the anticipation of Divali, for me, is no longer a concealed yen but airborne, like an enriching zephyr affecting all with piety, evoking togetherness and appreciation for all cultural and ethnic celebrations. It’s the essence that I miss.

The spirit that makes people hum bhajans, willingly abstain from drinking alcohol and eating meat, and joyously scrub and paint their houses. Then gleefully attack the yard, remove bulky junk from around the house, trim tree and grass. And on Divali day, cook tons of vegetarian dishes and make meethai, different kinds of Indian sweets, meetha bhaat, sweet rice and prasad, all while the late Hari Om Sharan sings “Aarti kunj bihari ki, Pawansut vinati, Aisa pyar baha de maiyya,” and “Hanuman Chalisa,” from a stereo loud enough for half the neigbourhood to enjoy. At every gap a different bhajan filters from homes. It’s the season of bhajans, so why haven’t I heard any when I walk the streets, or from the pundit’s home across the road? Such is the neighbourhood where I now reside.

Ahh, I miss the essence of Divali. It’s in the Anurada Paudwal and Kavita Krishnamurthy devotional songs blasting from boom boxes on roadside stalls, on the radio and television, in the grating of dried coconut kernel and the aroma of pure coconut oil bubbling in a pot, in the huge piles of deyas, calsas, paraai, hawan kun and wicks on roadside tables waiting to be bought in Edinburgh Village, in the bamboo structures outside homes and the loud boom children extract from “bussing bamboo” filled with “pitchoil,” (kerosene), in the clangs of the Milo can cover from bursting carbide, and laughing children racing to retrieve it while others rush to spit on the sputtering lump inside the can, before it’s lit again, in the firecrackers jumping around on the ground and the scratch bombs exploding suddenly at feet. Such are the memories in my soul.

Oh, how I miss the essence of Divali. It’s in the community celebrations, “lighting up” at the banks, government ministries, hospitals, malls, villages, schools, mandirs. It’s in the blowing of conches at nightly ramayan yagnas, poojas, bhagawats, and daily Ram Leela portrayals, in the smiles and the sharing of prasad and sweets, in the Divali Nagar, in the sada roti cooking on a gigantic tawa and then stuck in the chulha to swell, in the smell of roasting baigan (melongene), curry mango talkarie, and the thrashing of the buss up shot,

in the ringing of bells and beating of cymbals while the Iskcon devotees chant “Hare Krishna,” in the rattle of the gungooroos as Shiv Shakti dance to Mata Rani. That’s the essence of Divali: the coming together of a nation.

Those are the things I miss most, having chosen to live outside of my country. That choice, to live in New York, did not come with an inheritance of the one I left behind. I had to adapt new norms, it has not made me any less Trini, it’s just that all the wonderful memories that I have acquired while growing up in my native, Trinidad and Tobago, will remain just that; memories, and not experiences to be repeated annually.

Granted the society is far removed from what I am accustomed to, certain inherent qualities never change. Yearning for a traditional Trini Divali is one. Divali is a national festival in Trinidad and Tobago. It has been so since 1966 when government granted it a holiday. Even before it got such recognition it was appreciated by many outside the Hindu community.

As religion propagates, Divali is a Hindu festival, one of the largest to be celebrated annually. In Trinidad, in particular, where I was born and lived most of my life, the definition is undergoing subtle changes. Divali is not only celebrated by the Hindu community, given that the Hindu organizations host the biggest celebrations, it is celebrated by all.

Divali is special to all citizens of Trinidad and Tobago as evidenced at village and community celebrations. Saris are not worn by only Hindu women for such celebrations and prasad is distributed to everyone, regardless of race, and is eaten by anyone who wishes to partake.

Divali the festival of light celebrated on the darkest night in the Hindu calendar brings the nation of Trinidad and Tobago together. For this one day, the lighting of deya touches all races. Like Hindus, many non-Hindus light deeyas for peace, prosperity, wealth and blessings from Mother Lakshmi.

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Hi. My name is Susan Gosine-Herrera. I live in Queens, New York. This news blog is my way of highlighting all the interesting things, people and events I come across in this part of New York. If you have an interesting immigrant story or know of one or of an interesting immigrant, I will be happy to feature that story in these pages. Just send an email and I will be in touch. Meanwhile, live like a tourist, enjoy all you can, before you move on.

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