Vijayadashmi celebrates the victory of virtue over vice. It is observed by Hindus on the tenth day of the month of Aswayuja after a nine day period of fasting for Sharad Navratri. Celebrations on this day in Felicity commemorate the defeat of Ravana by Lord Rama. The evening attractions on the days leading up to Vijayadashmi, in hamlets across the canes of Caroni centres on the theatrical re-enactment of the Ramlila. It is an epic poem that is presented in dance. UNESCO has declared it to be a ‘masterpiece of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity’. On the Ramlila Ground that finds its equivalent in the Chowk of the Hosay in Cedros and the Karbala of the Tajas in St. Clair at QRC, the effigy of Ravana is burnt publicly.

While on a visit to India, Pope Paul VI, in a passionate hymnal of prayer, recited a mantra from the Brhadaranyaka Upanisad I.3.28- ‘From the unreal lead me to the real; from darkness, lead me to light; from death, lead me to what is undying- Asato ma sad gamaya; Tamaso ma jyotir gamaya; Mrtyor ma amrtam gamaya. In the Islamic traditions, Muslims cohesively say- ‘La ilaha’. It is an affirmation that ‘nothing exists’. That is, nothing is worthy of consideration except that which stands by itself and is not in need of consideration. Such a negation is based on an exclusive affirmation of the only possible permanent Reality- God alone. Once the ‘Knowing’ is known, it stands alone and is sufficient. It was December 3, 1964 and the Pontiff clarified that he was fully aware that he was reciting a Hindu mantra as he led his Church towards the ‘Nostra Aetate’. He noted that rarely has this longing for God been expressed with words so full of the spirit of Advent as in the words written centuries ahead of the Nativity of Jesus. The Holy Father went on to remind the congregation that this ancient prayer has a place in our daily devotion in the modern world. He said it is a mantra that should rise from within every human heart. He called for humans to come closer, not only through communication technologies, steamships and jet planes, but to come together with our hearts, in mutual understanding, esteem and love. Not to meet merely as tourists, but as pilgrims who set out to find God; to answer the call, for each of us to become a saint. Not to meet in structures of stone, but inside human hearts.

During the Easter Vigil, the Exultet chant echoes the mantra: ‘This is the night that with a pillar of fire banished the darkness of sin. This is the night that even now throughout the world, sets Christian believers apart from worldly vices and from the gloom of sin, leading them to grace and joining them to his holy ones’. Theological questions about the finality of this mantra will persist and pervade spaces that wish to remain narrow. But there are times, like the recent floods in Trinidad, that we must contemplate leaving aside the harder questions when we witness so much suffering. Regardless of the creed caught in this great flood- we all prayed and delayed any theological inquiry as we faced our frailty as everything around us seem to be failing and falling. Once prayer takes place and if there is some benefit to it, then we can find ways later to untie the difficult theological knots which we wrap around our hearts.

It is urgent today that we strive to bring our traditions together in deeper, more intimate and personal ways. Calculated ignorance, fear-mongering, and wall-building in times of genuine economic hardship and fears of terrorism have closed religious borders. Now, we find no place to witness openness and peace to build sisterhood and brotherhood that will be the real antidote to ignorance, fear, violence and containment. In a world of denial, the lie, what is not, barricades all of us from moving toward what is, what is true; from our individual and cultural darknesses into a shared light that can only be shared; and from the shadow of death, into a light that is no one’s private possession. No one owns the truth. Perhaps we should drop the whole idea of knowing the truth. After all, Walcott describes the truth as a puddle of clear water dammed in a ditch. Even if some choose to believe that God does not exist- their denial is no licence to descend into cruelty and inhumanity. We can, as humans with our limited faculties, sort things out amongst ourselves, and arrive at a just order, one that minimizes suffering, and engenders equality and solidarity. ‘From the unreal lead me to the real’ suggests to the Sufi that there is no denial of the outward existence, only the negation of any reality other than the only true Reality; that which is left when all else ceases to be. The mantra makes it clear that the world is out there and is a result of the effects of causes which do not include human thinking.

To say that truth is not out there is simply to say that where there are no utterances, there is no truth, that sentences are elements of human languages, and that human languages are human creations. Truth therefore cannot be out there. It cannot exist independent of thought. Therefore, while the world is out there, only descriptions of the world can be true or false. The world does not speak. Only we do. The world can, once we have programmed ourselves with a language, cause us to hold beliefs. Ultimately we must all accept that- ‘No one owns the truth and everyone has a right to be heard’.