- Guyana was the first country in the Western Hemi-sphere to receive Hindu immigrants from India. On May 5, 1838, the British ship Whitby docked at Guyana’s Berbice Colony with 249 immigrants on board, 164 of whom were East Indians bound for the sugar plantations of Davidson, Barclay and Company in Highbury and Waterloo. As many immigrants to the Caribbean were, these East Indians were contracted as indentured laborers to fill the labor shortage that resulted from Britain’s abolition of slavery in 1833. As newly freed Afri-cans demanded higher wages and entered dif-ferent labor markets, colonial officials turned to India as a source of cheap labor.Guyana attracted many from western Bihar, eastern Uttar Pradesh, and other regions in north-ern India that had been affected by famine and poverty. Between 1838 and 1917, 238,960 Indian men, women, and children immigrated to Guy-ana. Most were farmers, but a small number of educated Brahmins also arrived, despite British policies aimed at preventing their passage. British officials believed that Brahmins would incite dis-sent among workers. As many as 75,000 inden-tured servants returned to India at the completion of their contracts. The rest remained and settled in permanent colonies.Hindus endured unfair treatment on the plan-tations and were pressured to convert to Chris-tianity. Work in the fields had no regard for the needs of Hindu prayer, ritual, or religious ceremo-nies. Hindus were sequestered, placed on separate plantations, and allowed to leave designated areas only with a validated pass. Long days in the field left little time for other activities; workers quickly adapted to certain patterns of Christian worship and adopted Sunday as a day for Hindu prayer and ritual.During the 1850s Christian missionaries fre-quently visited the settlements of Indians in attempts to convert Hindus to Christianity. In order to counter conversions Brahmin priests began providing spiritual rites to all Hindus regardless of caste. The rate of conversion to Christianity slowed, but a breakdown of the tradi-tional Indian caste system followed.Official policy of the British colony barred Hindus from employment in the civil service unless they first became Christian; many Hindus converted for this reason but privately continued to practice Hinduism. Discrimination against Hin-dus gradually subsided in the 1930s as the social status of Indian immigrants improved.Hindus who immigrated to Guyana took many of the traditional forms of their religion. Although these traditions were altered to suit the conditions and circumstances of living in a multicultural society, the fundamental differences among sects found in India were reestablished in Guyana. The most popular traditions in Guyana remain VAISH-NAVISM and SHAIVISM. The largest Hindu organiza-tion in the country, Guyana Sanathan Dharma Maha Sabha, sustains most of the temples. Other organizations such as the Guyana Pandits Soci-ety maintain the tradition of Hindu orthodoxy in Guyana. In the Vaishnaivite tradition, the Ramayana is the main text of Hindus in Guyana; it supports devotion to the deity HANUMAN and an annual observance of Ramayan YAJNA. Among Shaivite practitioners, daily observances include bathing a SHIVA LINGAM. Small shrines and prayer houses appear in front of homes throughout the country. Temples are the sites of chanting, MEDITA-TION, ritual, and worship.As in Trinidad, DIVALI, the festival of lights, is a national holiday in Guyana. Families and com-munities prepare special foods and decorate their homes and neighborhoods. Another Hindu cel-ebration, HOLI, is also a national holiday. The holi-day commemorates the lore about a traditional king who was killed by his son. It represents the triumph of good over evil and features the throw-ing of red dye on family and friends, representing the blood of the king.Smaller groups following the Hindu faith have emerged over recent decades, including the INTER-NATIONAL SOCIETY FOR KRISHNA CONSCIOUSNESS, the SAT YA SAI BABA movement, and the ARYA SAMAJ. Most notable is the Guyana Sevashram Sangha, which was established in the mid-20th century by Swami Purnananda (no dates). Purnananda went to Guyana to foster Hinduism by teaching the Hare Krishna mantra and publishing Aum Hin-dutvam, a book to help guide Hindus in Guyana. The Guyana Sevashram Sangha serves as the only institution in the Caribbean that trains young brahmacharis (spiritual students; see BRAHMACHA-RYA) and is the first to produce its own swami, Swami Vidyarand.Approximately 280,000 Hindus make Guyana their home. It is the second largest religion in the country, after Christianity.Further reading: D. A. Bisnauth, The Settlement of Indi-ans in Guyana, 1890–1930 (London: Peepul Tree, 2000); Hugh Desmond Hoyte, Hinduism, Religious Diversity and Social Cohesion: The Guyana Experience (George-town, British Guyana: Dynamic Graphics, 1987); Clem Seecharan, India and the Shaping of the Indo-Guyanese Imagination, 1890s–1920s (Leeds: Peepal Tree, 1993); Steven Vertovec, The Hindu Diaspora: Comparative Pat-terns (New York: Routledge, 2000).
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.