Kindle the lamp of love
With thy life and devotion.
On Saturday I will join my Hindu father and our guests as
we celebrate Divali, a festival that symbolises light, goodness,
reconciliation, peace, harmony and happiness. The word Divali
is a corruption of the Sanskrit word Deepavali,
meaning row of lights.
Divali gives us an opportunity to celebrate the richness and
diversity of T&T. As a Catholic with a Hindu father, I
feel privileged to have been involved over the years in a
special kind of dialogue with Pa. Indeed, this experience
has played a key role in deepening my own faith and in facilitating
my inter-faith work/dialogue.
Divali is celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs and Jains. I remember
how elated I was in November 1991 when my South African friend,
Sheila Singh, gave me a copy of Nelson Mandelas speech
delivered at Divali celebrations at Durban City Hall21
months after his release from prison. She had played a key
role in organising the event. The speech is available on the
Internet. Inter alia, Mandela said:
Divali brings back for me memories of days on Robben
Island... Regularly at this time of year we would be visited
by Hindu priests. They would come and offer prayers with us
and bring with them parcels of sweetmeats. The authorities
were insistent that these parcels were only for believers
in the Hindu faith. Through our struggles we were able to
challenge the authorities on this narrow conception and we
insisted that all the embracing philosophies that Hinduism
is based on extended a hand to all of humanity.
The Festival of Divali, the Epic, The Ramayana, which
is closely associated with the festival, and the history and
significance that are a part of the festival, carry innumerable
lessons for us all... Justice, truth, integrity, humility,
freedom are values that the Hindu scriptures, like the scriptures
of most other religions, espouse.
We are committed to building bridges and helping to
embrace all of humanity under one umbrella and move forward
in strength and confidence to a better future. We believe
that this is not different from what Hindu scriptures have
also been saying...
At this time of Divali and as I light this sacred lamp
I am aware of how this lamp symbolises the triumph of enlightenment
over blind faith, prosperity over poverty, knowledge over
ignorance, good health and well being over disease and ill
health, freedom over bondage. We have to light lamps of thanks
giving the enlightenment as we go forward into the future
in peace and hope and prosperity.
This year I missed the 15th annual Divali parade and celebrations
in Brent, London. Last Saturday evening Mahogany Arts, a company
owned by my brother, Anil (Speedy) and his partner, Clary
Salandy, once again played a key role in the celebrations.
Mahogany prepares about six floats carrying large hand-made
statues of Hindu deities, and 100 or so individuals in costumes
carrying deyas etc through the streets. The evening ends with
fireworks and a shared meal. People of all faiths participate
in the event.
I also missed my visit to Br Daniel Favre, a French Catholic
brother who lives in Southall, London. His Divali celebrations
are truly inter-faith. One of my dreams is to open a peace
centre in T&T. Br Daniel keeps reminding me of this dream.
He has committed himself to lecturing at such a centre free
of charge. He and I used to have deep discussions based on
documents produced by the Vaticans Pontifical Council
for Inter-religious Dialogue (PCID).
Many will recall last years Divali message to all Hindus
sent by Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, president of PCID.
His words are still appropriate today. He said:
At a time when aggressive secularism would seem to be
on the increase and respect for basic human values often appears
to be on the decline ...co-operation among people of different
religions can bring about a new respect for religion in todays
world...Dear Hindu friends, let us continue to collaborate
in finding solutions to the problems we face, whether they
be small or great, whether local or international.
There are many traditions, symbols and rituals associated
with Divali, eg to honour Mother Lakshmi, goddess of wealth
and prosperity, and to ask her to bestow blessings of health,
happiness, peace, prosperity and spiritual upliftment.
The most widely shared tradition is the one that connects
the festival with the celebration and rejoicing over the return
of Prince Rama (an incarnation of Lord Vishnu) to his home,
after his 14-year exile in the forest, and his defeat of the
oppressive and tyrannical Ravana. Citizens welcomed him by
lighting thousands of deyas.
There is a universal message in this story. Today millions
of people across the world yearn for justice, for freedom
from tyranny and oppression and the hope of living in a world
where there is no fear or violence and where they are able
to realise their full potential.
The evil Ravana, an effigy of whom is always burnt during
our Ramleela celebrations in T&T, established and maintained
his rule as a leader by the exercise of fear and violence.
He was intent on conquering and imposing his will throughout
the world, enslaving others and depriving them of freedom.
He prohibited and suppressed the practice of religion. He
had no value for the sanctity of human life. The defeat of
Ravana by Rama (good over evil) and liberation from oppression
are central features of Divali.
Mahatma Gandhi was inspired by the kind of society/world that
Rama representedone that is all-inclusive and committed
to the removal of the fundamental sources of human suffering.
One in which nations live in peace with each other and human
relationships are characterised by love, compassion and generosity.
A Hindu pundit rightly said recently that Rama understood
his role as a son, brother, leader, friend, husband, citizen
etc. He had a true vision of what a human community looks
like when God is recognised as supreme and ultimate. The kingdom
of Ravana, on the other hand, reveals what becomes of a community
when God is displaced by human tyranny. Ravanas kingdom
was one of hatred, fear, violence, greed, jealousy etc.
Divali, with its struggle between Rama and Ravanagood
and evilreminds us of the daily/perpetual battle that
is waged in the human heart to choose good and reject evil.
It reminds us of the efforts of those who fight for freedom,
justice and to promote human dignity and urges us to join
in this struggle. The virtues reflected in the lives of King
Dasharath of Ayodhya, Sita, Bharat, Laksman, and Hanuman are
worthy of adoption.
Divali has a message of hope and optimism. May the light
that is celebrated at Divali show us the way and lead us on
the path of peace and social harmony. May God lead us
from untruth to truth, from darkness to light, from death
to immortality. May all be happy. May all be free from misery.
May all be filled with goodness. Happy Divali!
Leela Ramdeen is a lawyer and education consultant