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The Hindu Society of Guelph spreading message of peace and harmony

December 18, 2014

Oh the colors, the flavours, the sounds, the joyous faces!
The GWLIP was honoured to be invited to the Hindu Society of Guelph’s (HSoG) Diwali celebration on October 25 at the Puslinch Community Centre. The packed hall brimmed with anticipation about the night’s festivities—eating, dancing, singing, engaging in good conversation—and we had a grand time with over 300 stunningly dressed people of all ages who were thrilled to finally spend an evening with each other.

The beautiful and healing meaning of Diwali was expressed by the past-president of the HSoG, Praveen Saxena. It is a time to “celebrate happiness and spread the message of peace and harmony.” It “marks the victory of good over bad, and the victory of wisdom over ignorance.” It has deep historical and mythological significance for Hindus, partially represented by the worship of the Goddess Lakshmi, the giver of wealth, and Lord Ganesh, the giver of wisdom. Hindus light lamps on the darkest night of the month in which Diwali is celebrated to signify the removal of the darkness of ignorance. They also clean their homes thoroughly to signify that Diwali is a spiritual time to “clean up the mind and the heart…any hatred, any differences, any bad feelings toward anybody should be gone altogether on this particular occasion.”

The Hindu Society of Guelph has been around for over 40 years—this Diwali celebration was its 42nd—though it’s highly likely that many people in Guelph Wellington don’t know about it. Its structure has remained somewhat informal; previous attempts to build a temple in the Guelph area have not yet panned out, but local Hindus continue to hope that this dream will one day be realized. In the meantime, Pavneesh Madan, the HSoG’s president for the past two years and a Guelph resident since 2006, and other society members are working hard to fill some gaps and expand the organization. For instance, to provide more opportunities for local Hindu children to learn about Indian culture (Madan was a featured performer during the Diwali celebration), Madan began hosting free music and culture classes in his home.

And the outstanding success of this year’s sold-out Diwali—the biggest and best yet—is a sign that things are changing. Celebrants quickly realized during the event that they had outgrown the Puslinch hall.

In addition to Diwali in the fall, the HSoG’s other major cultural event is the commemoration of Holi (festival of colours) in the spring. Local Hindus can also participate in the society’s large picnic and a couple of hikes in the summer, or attend special presentations on various topics, including yoga, meditation, health, and Hinduism. Madan notes, however, that society members also get involved with events in the broader community, such as tree plantings.

The HSoG also fills a deep gap in newcomers’ lives, in addition to the cultural: “Often, newcomers come to us with a deep lacuna of cultural involvement. They miss home. They’re in a place where they don’t have friends or family. We cater to that personal space as well, with respect to being family away from family,” says Madan. Over snacks and tea, members of the society will chat with newcomers to find out about their situation and get a sense of how they can help with various needs. For instance, if the newcomer is looking for work, society members might look at where the individual could fit job-wise or consider whether they have the right connections to make between the newcomer and a local business. Or they might refer the newcomer to appropriate organizations to learn job skills such as résumé-building.

Importantly, Madan points out that the job scenario for the immigrant population is “a big concern” and “tough”, and he has become involved with the GWLIP partially to be plugged into organizations that are trying to make a difference and improve employment outcomes for newcomers and immigrants.

When asked what advice he would give other newcomers, Madan unequivocally answers, “get involved, get connected.” He says further: “The benefits are bilateral. They will benefit the other people in the organization, and we will be there as a rock pillar of support in the initial shock. We are big shock absorbers for our people. That’s what we’ve been told…fun-filled events like (the Diwali celebration) really make people belong to a place.”

He feels that a successful immigration process is really about honouring one’s established roots and experiences, while at the same time growing new roots. “A rootless person ceases to exist in any culture or any place,” says Madan.

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Guelph-Wellington Local Immigration Partnership

Guelph-Wellington Local Immigration Partnership