Guyana has the greatest percentage of Hindus in the Western Hemisphere with about 25% of its population practising the faith.
This community, which is frequently disregarded, has persevered and survived while making an effort to uphold its traditions in the face of several obstacles.
Sadly, it has been declining for a very long time. It will require assistance if it is to survive in the future, and this assistance begins with comprehending its nearly 200-year-old history.
The Slavery Abolition Act of 1833, when Guyana's British colonisers lost more than half of their labour as recently freed Africans walked off the sugar plantations to become small proprietors and establish their own communities, marks the beginning of the history of Hindus in Guyana.
Professional recruiting agents recruited Indians in both north and south India, many of whom were suffering from high rates of unemployment, poverty, and starvation. From 1838 until 1917, around 239,000 Indians were enticed and brought to Guyana as indentured labourers and servants with promises of better chances and lucrative jobs.
Sadly, they found that life was not as they had planned.
Due to overcrowding, poor food quality, a scarcity of fresh water, and the spread of water-borne illnesses including cholera and dysentery, the journey itself was a struggle for survival. The immigrants sought comfort and camaraderie via song and storytelling throughout a long, gruelling journey with high mortality rates (as high as 20 to 30 percent in some cases), a trend that would continue and take on increasing significance once in Guyana.
When they arrived, their position did not significantly improve. The immigrants were essentially treated as slaves despite not being formally slaves. As they made an effort to acclimatise to the severe tropical climate, they were paid pitiful wages and given absurd job tasks.
Further investigation revealed that the British in Guyana had made it a policy to convert Indians to Christianity in order to eradicate their practise of Hinduism.
By sequestering them and restricting their ability to roam between plantations, the British made it difficult for their labourers to establish a cohesive society.
Despite this, the Indians continued to practise their religion. The colonisers' repressive methods further strengthened the immigrants' resolve to forge and preserve their Hindu identity despite being more than 9,000 kilometres away from their motherland.
Even though they were pressed for time and had little freedom to practise their Hindu beliefs, they continued, meeting on Sundays at night because that was the only time and day they could. Later, the yajna—a form of Hindu devotional ceremony—became crucial to maintaining the labourers' religion as they protested against the British and achieved more freedom of movement.
Although Guyana now has halls and mandirs (temples) that allow for more rich yajnas, prior generations of Hindus in Guyana lacked the supplies to perform these ceremonies as opulently as they would have wished. Therefore, the gatherings at these yajnas took place in more basic settings, like rice fields, frequently amid tractors, trailers, and other different farm machinery.
Still, this had little effect on the size of the congregation. These yajnas, which were typically based on the philosophy of the Bhagavad Gita and/or the Hindu epic the Ramayana, would draw people from as far away as the eye could see. These yajnas valued the Ramayana in especially because its tales gave Hindus the fortitude to face their challenges and provided them with the courage to do so.
Hindus looked to the Ramayana as the big story of who they were during a time when they were being horribly mistreated and coerced to give up their religion. Thus, the epic was crucial in assisting people in upholding their Hindu identity and traditions, as it continues to be.
Thus, the efforts to preserve these customs were not in vain, as Hinduism managed to successfully integrate itself into Guyanese society when the indentureship programme was abolished in 1917 and Guyana attained independence in 1970. Along the country's coastline, Hindu temples were built, and the cuisine, fashion, and music of Guyana's Hindu history were also popular.
In 1991, 35 percent of the population was Hindu. That number fell to about 28 percent in 2002, and, as already mentioned, that number is now at roughly 25 percent.
However, the majority of Indians chose to remain in Guyana when their indentureship was over. Thus, as one generation of Indo-Guyanese gave way to another, the passage of time diminished many of the traits that defined the community's Hindu identity. For instance, the majority of Indo-Guyanese no longer speak Hindi or any other South Asian languages well; they now speak a creole-dialect of English.
Guyana is one of the poorest countries in South America, has made many Hindus susceptible to conversion.
Thus, Christian evangelists focus on rural regions because they think that's where Hindus are most vulnerable. Additionally, given that a large portion of evangelism is funded by substantial wealth, Hindus may find it quite alluring to convert if doing so will increase their family's quality of life.
Hindu priests and laity leaders in Guyana have gone above and beyond to protect the religion there. They serve as spiritual mentors and gurus, working relentlessly to ensure that their local communities are as steadfast in their faith as possible, in addition to leading the yajnas, which are still a lively and potent tradition that unites and enlivens adherents.
Hindus in Guyana encourage and insist that Hindus from other areas of the world visit the country to experience the lively form of Hinduism that is still practised there and to support efforts to prevent conversion. They'll even provide you with lodging, meals, and transportation. Ram Rattan, a pandit and educator, is one such person. He established a social services centre in Georgetown, Guyana, which provides housing as well as classes for social and personal betterment.