Since 1974, thousands of Guyanese have crowded along their main thoroughfare, the Campbellsville Mandir, near the shoreline to celebrate the Indian festival of lights, Diwali. The annual Guyana Hindu Dharmic Sabha’s festivities include some 20 ornate floats, lit with hundreds of thousands of twinkling lights of all colour, that depict the various gods and goddesses that make up the Hindu pantheon.
While the procession of floats is the high point of the celebration, festival attendees also have the opportunity to experience parts of Indian cultural life in Guyana. The cultural program features a diverse line-up of Indian singing and dancing from all parts of the Indian subcontinent. It is an effort to prevent Hindu traditions and cultures from being eroded. For the members of Guyana’s Hindu Dharmic Sabha, however, that is an uphill struggle against a long history of forced integration.
Guyana, a former British colony that achieved independence in 1966, has a large population of Indians, some of whose families emigrated 150 years ago; the first documented arrival was in 1838. The first Indians to arrive were mainly farmers and laborers from the Bhojpuri Belt, Northern India. During its colonial period, many Guyanese-Indians were compelled to give up Hinduism and Hindi. Speaking English was a requirement to have jobs in the public service, as a result, Indian culture has been eroded in Guyana.