Wikipedia says that the name Divali is itself a contraction of the word “Deepavali“, which translates into “row of lamps”. It is also known as the festival of lights. Divali is a five day festival culminating in the lighting of small clay lamps (called deyas) filled with oil to signify the triumph of good over evil.
As usual, Trinidadians have put their own stamp on the festival by using coconut oil instead of the traditional ghee (clarified butter). I am told (and have seen photos) that the displays in the villages are a sight to be seen with bamboo split and bent into fantastic shapes all decorated with the lighted deyas.
As a new arrival in Trinidad, I was looking forward to seeing the lights of Divali. With my 6 year old daughter in tow, we “ooh-ed” and “aah-ed” over the amazing light shows even on our little back street in St. James. Though our plans to see the Divali Nagar (City of Lights) site in Chaguanas fell through, the houses that we saw just down our street were enough to get a feel for the festival.
There was a family on the corner setting off fireworks and lighting sparklers so we went to watch. They quickly and graciously shared their sparklers and firecrackers with us and invited us into their home offering us snacks and food. What a nice way to spend an evening and meet our neighbours!
Since Trinidad’s population is close to 40% Indo-Trinidadian (primarily the descendants of indentured workers brought to work the sugar plantations), Divali has become one of the most anticipated holidays of the year. The last day of the festival is marked as a public holiday but in the days leading up to it, many people, even government ministers, dress in East Indian attire and attend variety shows featuring aspects of Indian and Hindu culture.
I am certainly looking forward to next year’s event – we will definitely be taking a tour to see the more dazzling sights then. In the meantime, I will be soaking in the many multi-cultural events that mark Trinidad’s calendar and you can look forward to more blog posts from a newcomer’s perspective!