Words by Tishanna Williams
All over the world, celebrations have begun for Divali. With a significant portion of Trinidad & Tobago’s population comprised of persons of Hindu and East Indian origin, the twin island republic has developed its own particular way of observing the Festival of Lights, which celebrates the triumph of good over evil. Here are 10 recommended activities for anyone visiting the twin-island republic during the Divali season.
Of course, even if you visit after the Divali festivities, you should still find the time to visit these landmarks and take part in the vibrant East Indian culture of Trinidad & Tobago.
1. Diwali Nagar
The signature Divali fair on the island is located in Chaguanas, in Central Trinidad. For those who may not have a lot of time on their hands but want to celebrate the holiday, a visit to the site is a must. With nightly performances and booths offering henna, the latest East Indian fashions, and every popular seasonal delicacy, the Nagar is one of the most visited trade shows on the island.
2. Bussin’ Bamboo
If you visit Trinidad around Divali, you may be roused suddenly from your bed by loud explosions that will have you running for cover. Fear not, what you would in fact be hearing is one of the favorite traditions of the young men on the island- bussin’ bamboo. The process is not for the faint of heart and each year many warnings go out in an attempt to deter the practice, but this has proven futile. The practice involves a long piece of bamboo acting as a cannon and is better seen than described.
The sound created usually panics dogs, so if traveling with your pet it is advised they remain locked away in a calm environment to prevent scampering.
3. Witness Puja
A puja is an East Indian ritual of prayer and offering done regularly by Hindu devotees at temples or homes. Food, fruits, flowers and other such gifts are offered to murtis, statues representative of the various Hindu deities, with much song and prayer. Pooja is a beautiful thing to behold and, in the time leading up to Divali, Hindu households get together to carry out specific poojas dedicated to the Divali season.
4. Dress the Part
Trinidad is one of the most culturally accepting cultures in the Western world; any true Trini knows how much we love a good dress up. During Divali, there is a significant rise in the amount of persons seen wearing East Indian garb – regardless of race. So find yourself at the nearest dress shop or the Nagar and indulge in a sari, shalwar (long tunic dresses worn with pants) or kurta (male version of the shalwar). Henna and elaborate jewellery also appear frequently and, on the day before the holiday, persons often dress up to go to work or handle their day’s business in attire so elaborate one may think they are in India itself.
5. Temple in the Sea
As its name suggests, the temple is actually situated on a manmade island in the sea at Waterloo, Carapachaima. Until the recent construction of a walkway, there was no visible means of crossing over — visitors would appear to be walking on water to get to the site. When thinking about the legacy of East Indians that originally came to the West Indies and made it their home, it is impossible to not mention this site, which has become a worldwide sensation and national treasure. Construction of the temple began in 1947 a solo mission by indentured labourer Sewdass Sadhu, who arrived in Trinidad in 1907 and died before its completion. The history of the temple is a long, often difficult one but it continues to stand as a testament to the unwavering ability of the human constitution.
The Temple is also a great place for birdwatching and viewing magnificent sunsets off the Gulf of Paria, like the one above.
6. Dattatraya Temple and its 85ft Hanuman Statue
At 85 feet tall, this is the highest statue of Lord Hanuman, the Hindu monkey god, outside of India. Hanuman is thought to be an avatar of Lord Shiva, and is considered a symbol of perseverance and steadfast devotion. The temple itself was built according to the Dravidian style of architecture of South India, and visitors can expect to be greeted by statues of elephants at the entrance to the temple. Upon entering, the ornate architecture and detailed carvings and symbols on the roof and around the building itself will blow you away. This is a definite worthwhile visit.
The temple is located in Carapachaima, in Central Trinidad. Visiting the temple is free but donations are requested to handle its upkeep.
7. Light Up Deyas
Divali is called the ‘Festival of Lights’ and with good reason. East Indian homes, parks, business places are lit up with ‘deyas’ – tiny clay pots with lit wicks dipped in oil. The purpose is said to be linked to ensuring Mother Lakshmi visits the lit homes, bringing prosperity ad good luck for the year to come. Don’t think though that the ‘light up,’ as Trinis call it, is only relegated to one racial or religious denomination. Everyone gets in on the fun and, on Divali night, after gorging on delicious meals, families often pile into cars and go cruising communities to look at elaborately lit homes.
Chaguanas and Felicity are among the most popular communities to view light up in Trinidad.
8. Bending Bamboo
Divali is a festival that brings families and communities together and often, during the season, parks and community gardens are seen to boast elaborate architectural designs made of bamboo. These eventually become the stands upon which the aforementioned deyas are placed. The art of bending bamboo is an old one and, as the years have passed, artisans continue to push the boundaries with over-the-top designs.
9. The Indian Caribbean Museum of Trinidad and Tobago
Established in 2006 by the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha, the Indian Caribbean Museum of Trinidad and Tobago was named by National Geographic as one of “500 Sacred Places of a Lifetime” in 2013. The museum chronicles, via retrieved artifacts and documentation, the history of Indo-Caribbean culture in Trinidad and Tobago from the arrival of indentured laborers in 1845 to the present.
This site is located close to the Temple in the Sea, in Carapichaima, and is the only one of its kind in the Caribbean.
Some may say that we saved the best for last. Trinidadians love pleasing their belly, and you will be hard-pressed to find anyone with a Trini birth certificate who does not love a good curry. On Divali night, you could say that the island goes into curry overload. In a tradition similar to Christmas or Thanksgiving, East Indian families open their homes to neighbors for large vegetarian feasts that are concluded with sweet treats for desert. At the end of the affair, children often go outside to view or set off fireworks, or look at elaborately lit homes.
On leaving the home of your host, you will most likely be given small bags of parsad — sweet treats made with a ghee and flour base, along with pieces of fruit and other treats — to take with you.
See here for recipes for some of our favorite Divali dishes.