With workmen on and off the boat, with frequent heavy rains, and with time spent researching and ordering a new autopilot, we haven’t had much time to explore beautiful Trinidad on our own as we’d like to. We learned shortly after we arrived that the Hindu Festival of Lights, Diwali, coincided with our stay here and I wasn’t going to miss it. Folks around Chaguaramas recommended we go with a local tour guide, the famous Jesse James, so we signed up.
Jesse took us to a town called Felicity where we were welcomed with traditional drumming into the temple of a local Hindu school. The baba gave us a little background on the meaning of Diwali which I didn’t understand a word of because my ears are still not accustomed to the beautiful lilting Trini English. Then there was some traditional — or maybe Bollywood, I’m not sure which — dancing and singing, and a communal meal served on leaves in the school lunchroom.
But the real treat was just strolling on our own through lovely Felicity, seeing the rows of little clay pots burning coconut oil that give Diwali it’s name, literally row of lights.
As we walked the streets a man tending a row of pots asked me if I wanted to light one. Of course I did, and as I set it on the wall, he told me, “Be sure the wick faces west!” I dutifully turned the pot so the wick lined up with the others, then asked him the significance of having the light face west. “So it doesn’t blow out!” he said, and he pointed in the direction of the breeze wafting up the street. Duh.
Every house and business was adorned with electric lights and rows of clay lamps, sometimes in grid patterns. Tradition requires the lights remain through the night and they need near constant tending to keep them filled and lighted, so families were often outside in their new clothes greeting passersby wishing us Happy Diwali. Some of them gave us bags of homemade sweets.
The main road was hung with rows and rows of red flags and I asked someone if the red color was important. No, I was told. Digicel was a sponsor and it’s their corporate color. I’m 0 for 2 in attempting to ascribe spiritual significance to practical matters.
Diwali is celebrated worldwide wherever there’s a large Hindu population, but it’s a national holiday in Trinidad and Tobago, along with only India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Myanmar, Mauritius, Guyana, Suriname, Malaysia, Singapore and Fiji. We were glad we happened to be here at the right time. It’s a happy holiday to celebrate the triumph of good over evil and I suppose we could all use a little of that once in a while.