I am very pleased to be with you this evening and to have the opportunity to speak for a few minutes about the wonderful festival we are celebrating and about the great contribution that the NCIC has made and continues to make to the culture that our ancestors brought to this land.
It is said that culture is the “characteristics and knowledge of a particular group of people, defined by everything from language, religion, cuisine, social habits, music and arts.”
By that definition alone we can conclude that NCIC has positioned itself to be a curator of Indian culture with the magnificent work it has done since its first Divali Nagar 30 years ago.
It is testimony to the dedication of the leadership, and the many others who have contributed to make the event a national celebration that showcases our Indian culture to our nationals and to the world.
I wish to express my thanks to Dr. Deokienanan Sharma for his leadership … and to his colleagues who work tirelessly to produce this annual event.
And also to Dr. Hans Hanoomansingh whose vision led to the creation of Divali Nagar in 1986.
Let me also thank Dr. Rampersad Parasram, who chaired and organised the first Divali Nagar and established the template for this annual celebration.
They and the many others whose names may never be written in the archives are the ones who deserve our grateful thanks for protecting and preserving our rich culture.
Next year – 2017 – will be 100 years since the abolition of Indian indentureship that led to the movement of tens of thousands of Indians and their families to places like Africa, Mauritius, Fiji, Thailand and the Caribbean.
It is an anniversary worth noting and I look forward to celebrating it with all of you.
When our forefathers landed here starting in 1845 and right up to 1917, they came with few possessions, the most important of which were hope for a better life and the memory of the homes many of them would never see again.
And here, on the other side of the planet, they recreated communities and attached to them the same values that had preserved their culture for centuries.
They brought a lifestyle that helped maintain a distinct identity that remains with us today, one that has enriched our diverse society.
Time does not permit me to go into all the details of the resilience of our ancestors and their struggle for survival and recognition.
However, some of the outstanding characteristics were the extended family system, which helped preserve cultural continuity through language and religion, and the passion for freeing their children from the life of servitude and drudgery that the plantation system represented.
Through their perseverance and commitment to family and their strong cultural values, we their descendants have moved from the periphery of society to the centre and have reached the highest levels in national life.
We have produced two prime ministers and one president, the descendants of people who came here to work in the new system of slavery that Britain created when it abolished the Atlantic Slave Trade.
We must thank those who had the foresight to build the strong institutions that protected and advanced our culture and prevented it from assimilation into the dominant host culture.
In that regard I must mention the Maha Sabha and its founder, Bhadase Maraj … his successor Mr. Sat Maharaj … the Pandits like the father of Dr. Sharma – Pandit Jankie Prasad Sharma, our first Dharmarcharya (Dhar-ma-cha-riya). We owe gratitude as well to the founders of the NCIC, Mr. Bisram Gopie and Mr. Narsalo Ramaya.
Individually and collectively these people and tens of thousands of others have keep the light of our religion and culture burning brightly, sometimes against heavy odds.
One special feature of the annual Divali Nagar has been the selection of a special theme that over the years has helped us and the national community get an understanding of our religion and our other cultural traditions.
This year’s theme is GANGA MA, a celebration of the Goddess Ganga, the importance of the holy Ganges and the symbolism of water in our lives.
For Hindus, the Ganges is the world’s most sacred waterway. Each year tens of thousands of pilgrims descend on the holy cities along its course to offer prayers and immerse themselves in the purifying water, symbolizing the cleansing of their sins.
The sacred river is personified as the goddess Ganga. Hindus believe that bathing in the river causes the remission of sins and facilitates liberation from the cycle of life and death.
From the source in the majestic Himalayas, the Goddess Ganga allows the stream to flow into the Gangetic plains and beyond, making the earth fertile and free of all human sins. Ganga also signifies knowledge and purification.
The belief in the divinity of the Ganges is so strong that many families keep a vial of “GANGA JAL” (water from the Ganges) to give to a dying person to help the person achieve salvation. Scattering the ashes of deceased loves ones in the waters of the Ganges is considered a pathway to salvation.
Whether the river has the divine attributes and curative powers that tens of millions have given to it over the centuries is a very personal matter, rooted in divinity and a belief in the Hindu way of life.
In a mundane sense the river is a lifeline to the millions who depend on it to irrigate their crops and provide life-sustaining water for myriad uses.
Ganga Ma – the Ganges, takes care of the thousands of villages and their inhabitants in way that a mother takes care of her children. It is natural therefore for the river to be seen as Ganga Ma.
That is the context in which we celebrate GANGA MA, the Goddess Ganga at Divali Nagar this year.
Ganga has great significance and it is important that NCIC has chosen to honour Her in our celebration.
She is a preserver of life and an integral part of the religious life of millions in India and in the Indian diaspora.
Our religion teaches us that we must live a life in service to God and our community based on the principles of truth, cleanliness, compassion and charity.
In chapter 2, verse 7 of the Gita Lord Krishna says: “You have a right to perform your prescribed duty, but you are not entitled to the fruits of action.”
In other words serve the people, do good in the community and help create a better society as a duty to God but never do it for your personal glory and benefit.
That is what must guide us if we wish to attain salvation and union with our creator, the one God who is manifest as the Trinity of the Creator, The Preserver and the Destroyer (Bramha, Vishnu and Shiva).
God takes human form from time to time when the forces and agents of darkness and evil threaten the righteous.
Our scriptures have many examples of this divine intervention, the best known of which is the incarnation as Lord Rama who vanquished the evil King Ravana to rid the world of Ravana’s dark influences.
Lord Rama’s mission on earth is documented in the Ramayan, which teaches us the principles of love, a meaningful life and also how we can avoid discriminating against people regardless of their gender, religion and race.
It teaches us how we can become true citizens of a diverse global community.
The timeless message of the Bhagavad Gita is the cosmic conflict between good and evil – the continuing battles between spirit and matter represented by the soul and the body. It is a continuing struggle between knowledge and ignorance, and self-control and temptations.
In all our scriputes we can find examples of deceit, betrayal and selfishness.
Betrayal is a gross violation of trust and is one of the most devastating forms of pain inflicted upon us by our fellow humans.
Often it is worse that physical violence because it destroys the very foundation of trust.
We find examples in the Ramayan with the betrayal of an entire kingdom by an evil dictator embodied in the form of Ravana.
He in turn suffered from the fruits of his own evil when his brother betrayed him to Lord Rama who vanquished the dictator and freed the oppressed.
The story of Prahalad has the betrayal of the young prince by his father and his father’s sister, Holika.
When all attempts to kill Prahalad failed the king got Holika to sit with Prahalad in a pyre, hoping to kill the young devotee of God. It was betrayal of the worst kind and she suffered for it. Holika perished in the flames but Prahalad survived and God took the form of NAR SINGH and killed the evil king.
In the life of Lord Krishna we encounter betrayal by Krishna’s uncle, the demon King KAMSA (pronounced Kance) who betrayed his father and usurped the Kingdom.
He then imprisoned his sister and mudered her newborn children because he feared that his sister’s eighth child would be his killer.
The eight child turned out to be Krishna, who was smuggled out of prison across the Ganges and left with foster parents.
Krishna grew up to detsory his uncle and restore light and goodness to the kingdom, which Krishna returned to his grand father, the good king, Ugra-sane.
These examples from our scriptures demonstrate the futility of the dark elements that guide so many in our society.
And occasions such as this event help us understand and appreciate the reason for living a pious and righteous life in service of others and our respective communities.
Divali Nagar is more than an event to enjoy the wonderful cuisine that our ancestors brought from india that we have adjusted to our own circumstances and created some of our own. It is much more than the music and dances.
It is about cultural persistence and the education you get from learning about our our past and the struggles to preserve something very special.
Scholars will tell you that while Hinduism is the oldest living religion it is in effect not a religion at all but a way or life, based on a series of rules and traditions handed down over several millenia.
It has no founder and no spirtual head but has survived because of its profound philosphy and the dedication of our pandits who kept our people together, explained the scriptures and cultivated communities with a pious and righteous way of living.
It is a credit to our society that through cultural relativism in our diverse society we have managed to preserve the best of our culture and move from being menial labourers to become the primary definers of our society, the leaders and role models.
The message of Divali resonates with the need to continue to protect and preserve our history and culture.
There are those among us who have allowed the dark side of the soul to take prominence in the form of betrayal, hate, deceit, avarice and many of the ills that plague contemporary soceity.
There can only be hope for them if they can nurture the good that also resides within the cosmic soul and live a life of divinity and righteousness.
Every year when we celebrate Divali we pray to Mother Lakshmi for that gift for our society and look forward with great hope that the light will burn away the darkness and we will experience a new dawn of hope, of goodness – of love, compassion, truth and charity.
Whether you celebrate in the community, at home with family and alone, do it with conviction and pray that Mother Lakshmi bestows on you the strength to combat the darkness and let the light of righteousness shine brightly to illuminate our diverse communities.
Let the light of Divali shine on our nation every day in the knowledge that where there is darkness, light will persist.
Thank You. Shubh Divali.