Global Dharma




Divali with Love


THIS PAST OCTOBER, 2017, THE country of Suriname celebrated Divali—the biggest religious festival among the country’s Hindus. The most important aspect of Suriname’s festival is the lighting of the Mega Diya in Independence Square, at the center of Paramaribo, the Capitol. Hindus and non-Hindus alike take part in the massive celebration. The Great Lamp (see photo), requiring hundreds of liters of ghee, is lit at the start of Divali week, usually five days before Divali itself.


Another view of the massive diya lamp in the middle of townsquare.

During the festival, citizens believe it is very important to clean your home and purify your mind. Thus, alcohol is avoided, and many non-veg Hindus temporarily become vegetarian. But eating sweets and other treats is an intrinsic part of the joyous event. The idea behind Divali is to welcome the light in your life.

Independence Square is flanked by the Presidential Palace, the Court of Justice, the National Assembly, the Congress Hall and the state flags. Divali day is a national holiday; government offices and shops are closed. People bring ghee all through the week to keep the mega diya burning.

Nearby there is religious singing and dancing, float parades and burning torches, as people from many parts of the country come together. The “flying” Hanuman is a big attraction, as the heroic God is landed from in the square by means of a crane or cable car.


Paramaribo, Suriname’s capitol, has the country’s largest lamp, known as “Suriname diya.” Diplomats and other dignitaries often take part in lighting the national diya.

Ironically, the great lamp, or kappa, was originally a vessel used to cook food for slaves. Many kappas are found in museums as colonial heritage. The Independence Square kappa, which weighs hundreds of kilograms, has been transformed into a beautiful lamp, whose large flame is protected from rain by a tent.

Divali is essentially a one-day celebration, but preparations often start weeks in advance: decorating and cleaning the house and surroundings, buying diyas and preparing treats.



Egypt’s “Hindu Palace”

THERE ARE NO HINDU TEMPLES in Egypt and any existing Hindu population likely evacuated the country during the 2011 Egyptian Arab Spring protests. Yet due to the Eastern inspiration of a 19th-century billionaire, a Belgian Baron named Edouard Empain, the country holds a grand edifice known as the Baron Empain Palace or Le Palais Hindou, literally the Hindu Palace.

Built between 1907 and 1911, the palace is one of history’s finest and earliest examples of reinforced-concrete construction. It is said that the entire structure, or possibly one tower, could be rotated 360°. There is no doubt, however, that the three-story staircase inside is an architectural wonder.

Modeled after the Hindu temple Angkor Wat in Cambodia and temples of Orissa style in India, it presides over lush gardens in the upper-class suburb of Heliopolis—once a separate city, but now merged with Cairo as a district of that city.

The inside was a lavish home occupied by Edouard and his family and the scene of many elite dinners with local aristocrats. His wife and daughter died in the home from mysterious circumstances. The family lived there until they sold it at auction to Saudi investors in 1957.

The new owners hoped to resell it at a profit, but left it to become more and more dilapidated, plus it was frequently vandalized. Finally, the Egyptian government decided to acquire the palace in March, 2005, on the eve of the centenary of Heliopolis. It has been partially restored and glows at night under high-tech lighting.


The Hindu Palace: The structure was designed by the French architect Alexandre Marcel (who also created the cinema La Pagode in Paris) and built following the then-revolutionary process of reinforced concrete. Of Khmer inspiration, it is impressive for its rich ornamentation, with images of snakes, Buddhas and Hindu Shivas, Krishnas and other Deities. The garden is a botanical paradise of marvels, now restored, that the baron gathered during his travels.




The Princess Becomes a Hindu

ON JULY 17TH, 2017, THE Princess of Java, Indonesia, Kanjeng Raden Ayu Mahindrani Kooswidyanthi Paramasi, officially converted to Hinduism in a ceremony known as Sudhi Wadani. The ritual, whose name means “initiation into Hinduism,” was held at the Pura Luhur Catur Kanda Pat Sari Temple.

“Returning to the path of dharma is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time,” said the Princess, “I am very grateful. Today is a good day because my own heart and my brother supported the move to Hinduism.”

The princess said she has always felt peaceful when praying in a temple and her entire family supported her decision to embrace the path of dharma as a Hindu.


Sudhi Wadani: Javanese flute music, purification ceremony and chanting of mantras complete the initiation ceremony





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