Thursday 19th October 2006

 
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Spreading Hindu light

During the three weeks preceding the Divali celebrations, which will take place on Saturday, a public holiday, the pundits of T&T performed thousands of Lakshmi pujas in Hindu homes across the country.

Lakshmi is a female manifestation of the one Supreme Being that Hindus call Brahman. And since Hinduism recognise both the male and female aspect of the incarnated God, Lakshmi is often described as the consort of the male aspect Vishnu.

The word “puja” means to worship or to pay homage. And in performing Lakshmi puja the Hindu households are worshipping and offering homage to this female manifestation. But worship is not confined to Hindu households, families or even individuals.

The worship of the gods of Hinduism (deva puja) is also performed in public for the well being of the world. When the masses gather they chant invocation mantras and receive and entertain God as a royal guest.

In Hindu Trinidad, hundreds of public Lakshmi pujas or Divali celebrations take place during the days proceeding Divali. Every Hindu school, hundreds of Hindu mandirs and open savannahs are specially prepared for the Lakshmi pujas and the religious entertainment that follow.

In recent developments, we witness large Divali celebrations over a period of seven to nine days. This activity was started by the late president general of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha, Bhadase Sagan Maraj, who orgainsed mass nine-day celebrations on the rolling grounds of HV Gopaul in Marabella.

In recent times the Divali Nagar in Chaguanas has orgainsed week-long displays of Indian culture and artifacts, together with other commercial activities related to Divali. It is an event that attracts thousands of Hindus and non-Hindus alike.

But the most pleasing development is from the people themselves who decorate and light up entire villages. The most impressive display of Divali decorations and people’s co-operation takes place at Pierre Road and Cacandee Road in Felicity. Over two miles of roadway are decorated by jhandis (Hindu prayer flags), buntings across the road and thousands of coloured electric light bulbs.

At Pierre Road and Cacandee Road, miles of bamboo are spilt and formed into intricate designs upon which lighted deyas are placed. It is no wonder that on Divali night thousands of cars with families visit this area in Central Trinidad.

Palmiste Village, also in Central Trinidad on the way to Tabaquite, is another area where Hindus and other villagers come together to decorate the main road. Divali is the one time of the year when our people will not rely on the Inter-Religious Orgainsation (IRO) to promote inter-religious co-operation.

During the three weeks leading up to Divali there is a marked decline in the sale of poultry and other meats, fish and alcohol. We note that even our Christian brothers and sisters also abstain and many even purchase deyas, oil and cotton wicks and light up their homes on Diavli night.

Because Hindus and Muslims rely on lunar calculations to arrive at their religious days and festivals, it will be noted that the Divali and Eid-ul-Fitr festivals come very close to each other. And while the Hindus are now undertaking a vegetarian fast, our Muslim brothers and sisters undertake daylight fast.

T&T is fortunate to be the host to such diversity because no sooner than these two great festivals come to an end we move straight into the Christmas activities with parang music filling the airwaves. Our diversity is our greatest strength and we must make every effort to understand and embrace each other’s view of the world.

As Hinduism expands in the West, the emerging forms of this ancient tradition are naturally being reflected through the medium of western languages, most prominent of which is English.

But the meanings of words are not easily moved from one language to the next. The more distant two languages are separated by geography, latitude and climate, the more the meanings of words shift.

While this is a natural thing, it does present the danger that the merging Hindu religious culture in the West may drift too far afield. The differences between the Hindu religious language Sanskrit and English and other western languages could create misinterpretations and a misunderstanding of Hinduism.

With this problem in mind, the great difficulty in understanding Hinduism in the West, whether from the perspective of conversion or from later generations of Hindus, is that it is all too easy to approach Hinduism with foreign concepts of religion in mind.

It is natural to unknowingly approach Hinduism with Christian, Jewish and Islamic notions of God, soul, heaven, hell and sin in mind. We translate Brahman as God, atman as soul, papa as sin, dharma as religion.

But Brahman is not the same as God, atman is not equivalent to soul, papa is not sin and dharma is much more than mere religion.

SATNARAYAN MAHARAJ is the Secretary General of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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