A Fiji University Celebrates ‘Hindi Diwas’ with Focus on History of Girmit Laborers
On the day of the popular ‘Hindi Diwas’, that is celebrated to honor and promote both the Hindi-speaking community of the world and the national language of India- Hindi; an amazing program was held in the University of the South Pacific
The Girmitiyas’ descendants spread up through the passage of time to influence the Fijian culture and politics
On ‘Hindi Diwas’, that is celebrated to honor and promote the national language of India- Hindi; an amazing program was held at the University of the South Pacific.
The program included a Hindi essay competition and a movie screening, both focussed on the history of the Girmit Laborers
Sept 30, 2016: The relation of the Indians with Fiji goes long back to the time of 1879. That was the year when the British colonialists took the contracted laborers from across India, transporting a huge section of the population to Fiji archipelago. On 14th May 1879, a ship named ‘Leonidas’ arrived with indentured laborers from India to Fiji and that system of bringing laborers got popularized as “Girmits”; coined from the mispronounced term ‘agreement’ by the laborers who didn’t speak English.
The Girmits are the foundation of the Indo-Fijian history. After the agreements of the laborers had ended and the long-term torment of them was over, they had to stay back in Fiji following circumstances. From 1879 to 1916, Fiji saw the arrival of some 60,600 Girmitiyas through almost 87 voyages. After the end of the “girmit” contract period, their gradual settlement included the economical rise and the elevation of Indian culture, food, education, traditions began to flow.
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The multiple obstacles that the Girmitiyas had to face strengthened their fight and political participation of the Indians got gradually accepted. The Girmitiyas’ descendants spread up through the passage of time to influence the Fijian culture and politics.
To remain affixed to the culture, the Indians in Fiji have been putting constant efforts by celebrating cultural events and building temples as a sacred venue for holding matrimonial ceremonies. The ‘Arya Samaj’ in Fiji is a body that promotes Hinduism.
यूएसपी में हिंदी दिवस – गिरमिट पर मोहित प्रसाद की बेहतरीन फिल्म – @ indian diaspora@ vishvas sapkal @ india in fiji pic.twitter.com/TOvyxctL2u
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One of the most major aspects that the intermingling of the Indo-Fiji culture holds the record of is the language. A new lingo was evolved through the multiple generations of the Indians who had settled in Fiji.
On the day of the popular ‘Hindi Diwas’, that is celebrated to honor and promote both the Hindi-speaking community of the world and the national language of India- Hindi; an amazing program was held at the University of the South Pacific. The program included a Hindi essay competition on the topic- ‘Girmit History’ as reported by Vishvas Sapkal, the high commissioner of India to Fiji. This also followed an award ceremony and Ms. Ranjini Raj won a trip to India of 25 days long.
To my knowledge, no other festival is as universal and controversial as Christmas.
As per M-W dictionary, the definition of Christmas is as follows:
“A Christian feast on December 25 or among some eastern orthodox Christians on January 7 that commemorates the birth of Christ and is usually observed as a legal holiday.”
Christ- Mas: is the church service that celebrates the birth of Jesus.
X- Mas: X is the Greek letter Chi that is a short form of the word Christ. In Greek, Christ’s name is Xristos. Therefore, X- mas is the same as Christ-mas. For some, X removes the religious aspect of Christmas by replacing Christ with X and this celebration then becomes more secular to them. You can fill X with anything you like.
People observe or celebrate Christmas in many different ways: religiously, in a secular way, or as a holiday. Some people do not pay any attention and become part of the Christmas in a mixed way.
Those who do not celebrate are either indifferent or wage a war against it.
Pagans are unhappy for Christianization of Saturnalia. Christians are complaining about paganization or secularization of Christmas. Some Christians believe that it is not their festival at all.
Actually, if we dig deep into it, we come to know that Christ’s birthday and life have been surrounded with assumptions. There is controversy whether he was Jewish or Christian; and whether Jews or Romans crucified him.
Contrasts between Hinduism and Christmas
Now, before we go further into the roots of this topic, let us take a glance at Christmas from the Hindu point of view. Here is how I would summarize a few contrasting points.
Trees are sacred to Hindus. We worship them and believe that Devi, Devtas, or Bhagwan (God) live in them. We do not believe in cutting trees at mass level and bring cut trees inside our home for decoration purposes. We do not believe in the sacrifice of living beings/trees.
We have all four kinds of weather and many varieties of trees but the Christmas tree is typically not found in India.
Chimney is not a common architectural entity in Indian households. Hindu children typically touch the feet of elders, in morning, and get gift of blessings every day. The focus of secular Christmas celebration is expectation of a gift by Santa. Materialism and expectation of gift is not a central part of any Hindu celebration. Hindus give gifts on many occasions but expecting a gift from someone is not a primary theme of any celebration.
Hindus go by facts. Hindu scriptures have a birth date for Ram and Krishn. Christmas celebration is based on an assumption- the assumption that December 25 is the birthday of Jesus.
In Hinduism, one is not a sinner by birth and therefore does not depend on Jesus to save him or her. We all are part of the supreme divinity.
Jesus died in place of all other humans so that they can live, i.e., he rescued humanity. We believe inkarma and therefore do not need Jesus for salvation. Someone else cannot own our sins and give us Moksha. Moksha is attained individually.
Vegetarianism is a common theme in Hinduism. Christmas feasts in church typically include meat and alcoholic beverages.
Hindus have so many festivals. It is not an exaggeration to say that every day is an occasion or festival for Hindus. We do not need more from other religions.
Christmas was invented to convert people by appropriating pagan’s original practices with Christmas. We know, the birth of Christ is not that important to Christians as his Resurrection. Protestants/Puritans do not even consider Christmas as their festival. Initially, the agenda of this celebration was conversion by assimilation.
When we adopt festivals and traditions, which are not our own, it dilutes our own traditions and festivals and slowly our celebrations are replaced and become obsolete. Additionally, it does not take long (takes only a few generations) to lose our own practices.
Why do some Hindus celebrate Christmas?
While Hindus do not believe in Jesus and Christianity, they get attracted to the holiday by the decorated trees, lights, and Santa. They take pictures, share them on social media, and may inadvertently give the false impression that they believe in Jesus.
Some celebrate it just to show that they are secular and tolerant of other religions.
Some who live in Christian dominated societies celebrate it for the inadvertent fear of exclusion, or to become a part of the process.
Some do not think about it much and take it in a neutral/secular/holiday way. They believe in going by the flow.
In USA, the Church and State are separate. Still, Christmas trees shows up in all public places, schools, and government buildings. Is there any explanation for this? If almost all government offices celebrate Christmas, then how are the State and Church/religion separate?
How is it democratic and gives equal rights when non-Christian children also have to do Christmas activities in schools?
How can one avoid this festival in Christian dominated areas? There are decorations, trees, Santa everywhere, in public places, official buildings, schools, malls, zoos, movie theaters, hospitals, parks.
You can choose not to celebrate it in your own home but you cannot close your eyes when you go out.
Christians do whatever the Bible says and the Bible does not give ‘instructions’ to celebrate the birth of Jesus. They have written commandments, everything else is against Christianity. Bible has no Christmas tree and no date for the birth of Jesus. So, is this celebration a violation of the Bible?
Many people greet others using phrases like ‘Happy Holidays’, ‘Season’s Greetings’, Merry Christmas, Jesus is the reason, Happy HOLYdays? Does Christmas become secular by saying Happy Holidays or Seasons Greetings?
Are people forgetting the Christ’ birth part or real reason for Christmas and is it all traveling, feasting, gift exchange or gift giving, tree, decorations, Santa etc.?
How is it justified to cut trees for decoration?
If (religious) minorities cannot mingle with the majority and celebrate their festivals, should majority stop celebrating their festivals?
By teaching your children not to celebrate Christmas, are you inadvertently making them more intolerant towards other people’s beliefs? If your own religion has a solid foundation, why are you scared of learning or teaching other religions or beliefs? Are you scared that you will start facing questions, which you cannot answer?
How does Santa get so much money to donate? What does he do to earn? How does he choose good or bad children? What are the criteria? Is he better than parents are, as he gives gifts? Is it okay to cheat children and give them false information that gifts are from Santa? For how long this lie is going to survive and what happens when they come to know the truth? What is the long-term effect on children who do not behave well and still get a gift from Santa/parents? Do they start believing that they can get away with anything with no consequences? Is it discrimination by Santa to give gifts to good children only?
To answer some of these questions we need to know the history and take part in healthy discussions. A clear understanding of the festival and facts can make a solid foundation of the decision to celebrate or not.
What were the ways of Celebrations before Christmas?
Before Chistmas was ‘invented’, people all over the world used to celebrate the coming of long days in different ways. For example, people in Norse celebrated the festival Yuletide. People carried the biggest Yule log to their home and set it on fire. It gave warmth in cold days and sparks of fire represented new lives to arrive in spring. Because of daily sacrifices, food was abundant. Festivities went on for days, until the log kept burning, usually 10 to 12 days. Evil spirits stayed outside in dark and cold weather. Sacred Evergreen trees kept inside were worshiped. Evergreen represented the natural symbol of life when everything else was dead or inactive in dark and cold winters.
Mistletoe is a ceremony in which the Mistle tree is cut to make an elixir, which is supposed to increase life and fertility, and works as an aphrodisiac. Mistle is a magical, sacred plant. It grows on oak trees, symbolizes peace, and wards off evil spirits.
Saturnalia is a pagan celebration to honor the god Saturn, as the name Saturnalia itself indicates. It is a weeklong festival in December when days are very cold, dark, and gloomy. People stay inside and celebrate. They sacrifice many cattle so that they do not have to feed them in winter when it is hard to go out for food. Because of the slaughtering of cattle, there is a lot of meat, so feasting is a major part of the celebration. Holly bushes hung on doors ward off evil spirits. Role reversal occurs. Masters behave like servers; one chosen person from lower status becomes ruler for the duration of the festival. He enjoys all the freedom and good meals and at the end of the celebration, his sacrifice happens. Juvenilia is the same festival for children.