Thursday, November 4, 2010

Divali - Festival of Lights

Tomorrow, Friday 5 November is the Hindu Festival of Divali otherwise known as the Festival of Lights which celebrates light over dark, good over evil.

Divali was first brought to Trinidad by Hindu indentured labourers in 1845 and is a five day festival. The word Divali itself means "row of lights" During the festival homes are completely cleaned and windows are opened to welcome Lakshmi , the goddess of wealth. Lamps are lit as a greeting to Lakshmi, gifts are given and festive meals are prepared.

The climax of Divali is the lighting of deyas after sundown - a delightful experience that should never be missed. In yards, open spaces, staircases, roundabouts and porches, deyas are lit by the thousands.

They are also placed on bamboo stalks bent into fantastic shapes and designs. In villages where there is a strong Hindu presence it is common to see whole streets decorated in this manner.

Bamboo bending is an absolute art in itself and it takes hours to produce the beautiful designs.  The men normally work in teams to create the centre pieces for the festival.  In today's Trinidad Guardian newspaper according to one team leader, Boodram “Gable” Bissoondial, "one of the first things is to start with the end in mind."  Meaning what you want the product to look like when completed.

Bamboo is not just bamboo. One has to choose the bamboo very carefully. For “road way” bamboo designs (bamboo lengths running parallel to each other placed on short stubs), Gable noted that you need to choose long lengths of bamboo that are not very wide in width. He said, "for bamboo that would form “rose designs,” you need to consider width more than length, since you have to split that type of bamboo into eight pieces.

Safety is of major importance when bamboo bending. According to Gable, there is no need for "fancy-fancy" (local expression) tools, just the need for rolls of wire and two-and-a-half inch nails, with hammer in hand. The pieces of bamboo must be tacked down to ensure they don't fall out causing harm to anyone and the edges of the bamboo have to be shaved so that no one can be scratched. Unshaven bamboo can be painful!

The following is taken from and written by Dr. Kumar Mahabir (October 14, 2009)

Divali is the defining event that marks Trinidad as a multi-religious, multi-ethnic society with Hindus comprising the second largest religious group (24 percent) after Roman Catholics in the twin-island population of 1.3 million people. While Divali is essentially a Hindu festival, people of all faiths actively join in celebrating the triumph of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, and good over evil. Non-Hindu adherents are attracted to the festival's universal message as well as to the extravaganza that is not only unique but also provides a clean environment for the cultivation of a healthy body, mind and soul.
Nowhere else in the world do non-Hindus and non-Indians actively take part in the lighting of over 10 million deyas on a single night in the year. These tiny clay lamps are lit in homes, yards, streets, offices, public parks and playing fields. It is perhaps only in Trinidad that one can find split bamboo tubes transformed into magnificent works of art on which the deyas are placed. The split bamboo strips reach out toward neighboring houses, streets and communities to symbolize the popular local mantra "all ah we is one."

To all my Hindu friends and all who will be celebrating, Shubh Divali


  1. This post was fascinating - my daughter read it for her RS studies - thanks!

  2. Would love to see this in person. It must be thrilling.

  3. i live in a neighborhood with a large hindu population, yet i have never heard of this celebration. i will keep my eyes open to see where celebrations may happen. thanks so much for sharing about such a beautiful tradition... enjoy!

  4. WOW...that is a great post. I didn't even know all of that. :)

  5. it is a beautiful, reflective time of the year

    Shubh Divali!

  6. Carrie: how nice - glad to be of help.

    Becky: it is quite beautiful because it's not just the lighting of the deyas but the rituals that go with it to say nothing of the outfits worn by both women and men and the children. My daughter who doesn't have any Indian blood, has worn two beautiful saris over the last week and even I wore an Indian top yesterday. (She won't let me post the pics of her on Face Book!!).

    girldaydreaming: did you find any festivities? I'm surprised because this is the most important of Hindu festivals.

    Marie: and you live here?? Lady.............

    Jingle: thank you.

    Rene: indeed it is - light over darkness can only be for the good.


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