Diwali 2021: Celebrating the ‘Festival of Light’ in the Caribbean

by Carolee Chanona
Diwali lights

Celebrating the triumph of light over darkness, good over evil, and the importance of knowledge over ignorance, Diwali is an annual festival celebrated across the world in accordance with the lunar calendar. This year, November 4 culminates Diwali, which began on November 2 and will continue until November 6. And with this Festival of Lights, the Caribbean — especially countries with a large South Asian diaspora — partakes, with national holidays in Jamaica, Suriname, Guyana, and Trinidad and Tobago. While Diwali is mostly worshipped by Hindus, it is also celebrated by Sikhs, some Buddhists, and those who believe in Jainism — an ancient Indian religion considered to be one of the country’s oldest religious practices, worshipped by approximately 0.4% of India’s population.

Celebrating Diwali, or Divali, in the Caribbean

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The Belize Indian Community (BIC) celebrates Diwali yearly. Pictured: 2019’s celebration. Image courtesy BIC.

In Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, and Suriname, home to Indo-Caribbeans as a plurality (the biggest group, but not a majority), the festival is being marked with a national holiday. Across the Caribbean, celebrants will fast to eat only sweets and vegan foods, before the lighting of divas later this evening—small clay lamps filled with oil and a cotton wick. After all, Caribbean countries went through layers of colonization. When slavery was outlawed in the British Empire, British colonies imported over half a million indentured servants from India to work in the Caribbean sugar cane plantations.

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A Mandir in Berbice (Crabwood Creek), Guyana, South America (Taken Nov. 2012). Image via Flickr @KennarP

In Guyana, President Irfaan Ali called it “a happy and momentous time for Hindus who observe this festival through worship, the sharing of sweets, outward expressions of kindness and the cleaning, decorating and the illumination of their homes.” He adds, “The simple ‘Diya, so conspicuous in the observance of this sacred festival, is a powerful symbol. It reminds us of the divine spark that exists within all of us and which, when properly directed, can lead us towards enlightenment and prosperity.” On behalf of the Caribbean Culture & Lifestyle team, Happy Diwali! Or as we in the Caribbean spell it, Happy Divali!

3 Diwali Desserts To Celebrate With

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Gulab Jamun by Dassana’s Veg Recipes

While Diwali is typically a joyous occasion heralding new beginnings, this particular year will be different in the wake of COVID. Nonetheless, celebrate at home with these 3 traditional Diwali desserts!

Motichur Laddu is a sugary concoction that melts in your mouth. Start with gram flour batter and fry it into tiny balls. Then drizzle it with sugary syrup and mix in nuts and spices for the perfect bite-sized treat. Find the full recipe here.

Jalebi is a spiral-shaped sweet made of all-purpose flour, gram flour, and sugar syrup. Boil sugar and water to make the syrup, and mix maida, cornflour, turmeric, and curd to make the batter. Using a sauce bottle, draw spirals of the batter onto a frying pan, then drizzle the sugar syrup on top. Find the full recipe here.

Gulab jamun is a dessert made of small balls (like the size of donut holes) dipped in a pool of rose-flavored sugar syrup. You can make the syrup with a combination of cardamom, sugar, and water, and the dough for the balls is made up of flour, yogurt, milk, and milk powder. Once the dough is shaped into balls, fry them and drown them in syrup. The full recipe can be found here.

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