top of page

Exploring the Cultural Tapestry: The Enduring Bond Between India and Guyana

Vedan Choolun, London, UK

The cultural relationship between India and Guyana is a captivating tale of migration, preservation, and creating a unique hybrid culture. This connection, forged through the movement of Indian indentured workers to the shores of Guyana, has left an indelible mark on the country. From religion and language to cuisine and festivals, the Indian influence has seamlessly interwoven with Guyanese society, making it a fascinating subject of study.

The crux of the cultural connection between India and Guyana lies in the historic migration of indentured workers from the Indian subcontinent to British Guiana (now known as Guyana) between 1838 and 1917. These workers, brought in to work on the sugar plantations after the abolition of slavery, laid the foundation for the Indo-Guyanese community.

One of the most striking aspects of this cultural relationship is the preservation of Indian cultural traditions. The Indo-Guyanese community has tenaciously held on to elements of their Indian heritage, including language, religion, music, dance, and cuisine. Hindi, Bhojpuri, and other Indian languages are still spoken by some of the older generations, and Hinduism and Islam are widely practiced religions.

Guyana is a melting pot of religions, and Indian faiths play a significant role. Hindu temples and Islamic mosques dot the landscape, and religious festivals such as Diwali (Festival of Lights) and Eid are celebrated fervently. These celebrations often involve traditional rituals, music, and dance, serving as a testament to the deep-rooted spiritual connection.

Indian cuisine has left an indelible mark on Guyanese food. Dishes like roti, curry, dhal puri, and an array of sweets have become integral to Guyanese culinary culture. The fusion of Indian and Afro-Caribbean flavours has resulted in a delectable blend that delights the palate.

Indian music and dance forms have transcended generations and continue to be celebrated. Classical dances, bhajans, and kirtans echo through the communities. The chutney and Soca music genres, which merge Indian and Afro-Caribbean influences, have gained immense popularity, creating a unique auditory experience.

Traditional Indian attire, such as saris for women and Indian tailor-made suits for men, still appears during special occasions and religious events. The vibrant colours and exquisite fabrics add to the tapestry of cultural diversity.

Commemorating Indian Arrival Day in Guyana

Guyanese of Indian origin and Afro-Guyanese playing Holi (Phagwah) in Guyana.

While English serves as the lingua franca in Guyana, many Indo-Guyanese maintain their Indian languages for religious purposes. This linguistic diversity is a testament to the community's commitment to preserving their roots. In some households, individuals are multilingual, speaking both English and the older generations still understand the Indian language with equal ease. In Guyana, the Guyanese Hindu Pandits performed all the Hindu ceremonies in Hindi and Sanskrit.

The Indian Muslims use the Arabic language during their religious ceremony. Many Guyanese Indian Muslims are proud of their ancestral home in India.

The Interplay of Cultures

Over time, Guyana has witnessed the beautiful intermingling of various cultural influences, creating a unique Guyanese identity. This amalgamation is particularly evident in the country's music, cuisine, and festivals. The Indo-Guyanese culture has contributed significantly to Guyanese society's rich and diverse tapestry.

Guyana hosts many cultural events and festivals that showcase the diversity of its population. People of all backgrounds eagerly anticipate events like Phagwah (Holi), Diwali Motorcade, and Eid ul-Fitr celebrations. These festivals bring the community together, fostering a sense of unity and shared cultural pride.

While the Indo-Guyanese community has made substantial contributions to Guyanese culture, it has not been without its challenges. Issues such as language shifts, generational differences, and societal tensions have, at times, tested the fabric of this relationship. Nevertheless, the enduring bond between India and Guyana continues to thrive and evolve.

The cultural relationship between India and Guyana is a remarkable cultural preservation and integration journey. The Indo-Guyanese community's contributions to Guyanese culture are evident in various facets of life, and the interplay between these two worlds has given rise to a distinctive and diverse cultural landscape. As Guyana celebrates its unique heritage, its connection with India remains integral to its vibrant cultural tapestry.

The relationship between India and the Guyanese Indians and Diaspora worldwide

Since Mr. Modi assumed the role of Prime Minister in India, he has taken on the responsibility of providing care and support to the global Indian diaspora in a comprehensive and determined manner. One of his significant initiatives in this regard is the introduction of the Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI). This program allows Indians whose ancestors left India many years ago and are now living abroad to apply for an Indian OCI passport by furnishing detailed information about their ancestors and the circumstances of their departure from India.

As an emerging superpower, India occupies a vital position on the global stage, and its role in promoting the welfare of nations worldwide is increasingly significant. This was evident during the challenging times of the COVID-19 pandemic. Under Mr. Modi's leadership, India demonstrated extraordinary generosity and solidarity by dispatching a plane filled with COVID-19 vaccines and medical supplies to more than 100 countries, including the whole continent of Africa, the Caricom countries, and Guyana. Few Western countries undertook similar initiatives to support needy nations requiring COVID-19 vaccines, particularly in Africa and other regions.

Under Mr. Modi's leadership, India has proactively strengthened diplomatic ties and global engagement. For instance, he played a pivotal role in welcoming African Union countries as members of the G20, effectively expanding the group's representation and influence. Simultaneously, Mr. Modi facilitated the inclusion of other nations, such as Argentina, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Ethiopia, as part of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) alliance. These diplomatic achievements reflect India's growing role as a global player under Mr. Modi's guidance.

During his presidency in Guyana, Dr. Bharrat Jagdeo was bestowed with the prestigious Samman award by the then Prime Minister of India, the late Mr. Atal Bihari Vajpayee. This recognition underscores the profound and enduring relationship that has bound India and Guyana for many generations. This longstanding connection has not only persisted but also thrived, fostering cultural, economic, and diplomatic ties between the two nations.

Dr. Bharrat Jagdeo receives Pravasi Bharatiya Samman from the then Prime Minister of India, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, in 2004

President Irfaan Ali on Tuesday received the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award from Indian President Droupadi Murmu at the ongoing 17th Pravasi Bharatiya Divas Convention in Indore, Madhya Pradesh.

In recognition of his commitment to strengthening international ties, Mr. Modi bestowed the prestigious Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award on President Dr Irfaan Ali in January 2023. This award symbolizes India's appreciation for individuals who have contributed significantly to the Indian diaspora globally.

President Irfaan Ali receiving the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award from Indian President Droupadi Murmu at the ongoing 17th Pravasi Bharatiya Divas Convention in Indore, Madhya Pradesh

During his thank you speech for his Samman Award, President Dr. Irfaan Ali of Guyana spoke about his Indian ancestors who left India as Indentured workers for Guyana. The President said that he is proud of his Indian ancestry. The cultural link with India is getting stronger and stronger.

Moreover, Mr. Modi's government has shown a keen interest in fostering economic relations with Guyana and supporting its economic development. This interest extends beyond financial aspects and encompasses cultural and social dimensions. India sees excellent potential in Guyana's growth and development and actively nurtures this relationship.

This engagement has sparked substantial interest among various segments of the Indian business community in India and the Indian diaspora worldwide, including multinationals in Indian business communities, engineers, doctors, and many company owners. They are eager to invest in Guyana's economic miracle and contribute to its progress. This keen interest reflects the strong bonds between India and Guyana and the shared vision of a mutually beneficial future.

Vedan Choolun, London, United Kingdom

5 views0 comments


bottom of page