Remarks at the Opening of Divali Nagar 2017
Angela Edwards, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Community Development, Culture and the Arts.
Sitaram and Good Evening,
Throughout mankind’s existence, the use of light across various cultures has and continues to be a sacred and fundamental aspect in ceremonial rituals. Lights radiate a subtle, soothing energy, and is a universal symbol of hope, life, and prosperity.
In Hinduism, the light of the deya speaks to the mind’s release from a psychological entrapment that subdues humanity. It embodies knowledge, and the mantra asato ma sad gamaya, in a simplistic yet profound way, explains the transference from a state of mental and spiritual opacity, to seeking the knowledge and virtues that allows one to merge with that supreme being.
The beauty of Divali festivities in Trinidad and Tobago lies in the fact that many citizens across our multicultural twin-islands have embraced the lighting of the deya as part of their own cultural experience, and identify with this transference of darkness to that which is healing and positive. So that when the Hindu community lights deyas on Divali night, know that your brothers and sisters will also share in this experience with you as we collectively seek to illuminate our country’s spirit, and that of the wider Caribbean region which recently faced unpreceded natural calamities.
As the Ministry responsible for the preservation of our cultural heritage, I applaud the efforts of Ramleela groups who, year after year, work arduously to produce this country’s largest open air theatre experience, the re-enactment of the leela (story) of Lord Rama and the epic journey of his transformation from Prince to King of Ayodhya. The tassa drums, the powerful sounds of the shanka (pronounced shunk– conch shell used in hindu rituals), the characters swinging their bows, arrows, and swords in the air, dancing with a unified motion, pounding their feet on the sacred grounds as they proclaim the victory of Lord Rama over the evil King Ravan (pronounced Ra-won); the burning of Ravan’s mighty effigy which beckons thousands of citizens to witness this spectacle; the elaborate costumes, and traditional face painting techniques; all of these elements suggest a steadfast pride in preserving what our East Indian ancestors brought to our shores since 1845.
In recognizing the need to safeguard knowledge transfer in the cultural sphere, the Ministry of Community Development, Culture and the Arts conceptualised our Mentoring by the Masters Programme in 2012, to provide a forum for our cultural icons to disperse their seeds of wisdom to upcoming generations. In 2016, Ravindranath Maharaj, or Ravi ji, a respected member of the Hindu community, served as a mentor in the area of festival development by sharing insights into the Hindu Prachaar Kendra’s Baal Ramdilla preparations.
I thank Raviji for his invaluable contribution, and I urge mentors directly engaged in the planning and execution of Divali and other festivities, to take Mentees under your wing to ensure that your knowledge is carried forward by our future generations.
Our Divali experience is somewhat incomplete without visiting the Nagar, which for the next nine nights, will feature an array of devotional performances in celebration of this auspicious festival. I commend the pioneers of the NCIC, the late Bisram Gopie and Narsaloo Ramaya, Dr. Deokinanan Sharma and others for their vision to establish an institution where the philosophies and cultural legacy of the East Indian community can flourish.
As I close, I extend greetings to the Hindu Community as we celebrate Divali, and may we all strive to illuminate our minds and dispel that which hinders our own self-progression. We should all govern our lives with this light of knowledge.
Like the citizens of Ayodhya who welcomed Lord Rama’s return with rows of deyas, may we celebrate those positive attributes that make this life a beautiful experience, and give us hope for a better tomorrow.