We travel the world to see new places, to experience and learn about cultures different from our own. Most of us are stuck in our own countries right now, but that doesn’t mean we don’t get to travel! Here in Singapore, there are so many cultures we can travel to, if we just stay curious and keep an open mind.
This November, we get to transport ourselves to India with the Deepavali (or Diwali) celebrations. Deepavali is also known as the Festival of Lights, and very aptly so because the festivities are a celebration of the triumph of light over darkness, good over evil. There are several myths surrounding the origin of the celebration, namely different to South and North Indians.
Credit: sharada_vaidika on Instagram
Fun fact #1: Two-thirds of Singaporean Indians are Tamils and Malayalees (South Indian) and less than 10% are Punjabi, Gujarati and Sindhi (North Indian). The remaining 29.68% are of smaller ethnic groups that hail from both North and South India, or are ethnically mixed Singaporeans.
South Indians celebrate Deepavali to commemorate the slaying of an evil demon king, Narakasura, by the deity Lord Krishna. Narakasura’s rule was likened to a period of darkness, so his defeat was seen as a triumph over darkness and a welcoming of light.
For North Indians, the celebrations date back to the myth in the Indian epic, the Ramayana, where Lord Rama of Ayuthya was exiled and deprived of his throne for 14 years by the demon Ravana. After slaying the demon and returning to reclaim his throne, the people celebrated his return with firecrackers and by lighting diya (clay lamps), giving rise to the traditions of the celebration today.
Hindus also believe that during Deepavali, Lakshmi (the deity of wealth and beauty) visits clean and well-lit homes, and blesses the households with wealth and good-fortune. They thus begin preparations before the actual day of Deepavali.
Families clean their houses, buy new (brightly coloured) clothes, and light up the entrances to their homes with oil lamps, electronic lamps and even fairy lights. A bright and joyous occasion, they also decorate their doorways with the beautiful patterns of rangoli (kolam).
Source: Wikimedia Commons
As rangoli is often created with coloured flour and rice, it is believed to be an act of charity as well, providing food for birds and insects. Petals and coloured sand may also be used to create rangoli.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
Traditionally, the day of Deepavali begins early with prayers, an oil bath and a visit to the temple. Depending on the household, families will take some time in the day to make offerings and pray before the family shrine.
It’s also common practice for South Indian families to start the day with the oldest member of the family placing three drops of oil on the foreheads of the rest of the family members; They will then proceed to take their oil baths, which is symbolic of taking a bath in India’s sacred Ganges river.
Some families will also make their way to the temple to pray and make offerings before visiting friends and family.
As part of the celebrations, families bring home-made sweets and savoury snacks to be given to friends and family. Reunions are joyful and vibrant, filled with good food, company, bright clothes and firecrackers!
Fun Fact #2: During the Mughal Era in old Delhi, India, the cultural norm was that Muslims and Hindus would be involved in each other's festivities. Deepavali celebrations were a testament to Hindu-Muslim solidarity as it was customary for Muslims rulers to distribute their weight in wealth to the less-fortunate.
Deepavali is often charged with a buzz of good cheer and bright colours, so join in the merriment and wish your friends and neighbours a happy Deepavali! (Do remember that Deepavali is not the Hindu New Year, so don’t make that mistake when sending your greetings!)
Credit: LiSHA Facebook
Deepavali is known to have one of, if not the best celebratory light-up in Singapore. Catch the bright lights and extravagant displays all around Little India, and snap a photo or two while you’re at it. The lights will remain up until 6 December.
Be mesmerized by the abundant street art in the area as well, from the surreal to the graceful, Little India’s walls have them all.
If you’ve never really taken part in Deepavali festivities before, there are loads of online experiences you can check out from the comfort of your living room. LiSHA and the Indian Heritage Center have curated comprehensive online experiences ranging from competitions, to activities, and videos to occupy you over the weekend (and beyond). And if you’re up for it, you can check out the celebrations in-person as well.
Credit: IHC Facebook
The Indian Heritage Center has launched a video series campaign to collect and preserve stories about Deepavali and what it means to those that celebrate it. From the exuberant energy of Little India (where they’re offering trishaw rides around the area!) and Tekka Market, to the intricate Rangoli and henna artforms, the videos on their Facebook page direct you to the festivities this season.
“The indian culture is really complicated. There’s so many subcultures in it and we don’t talk about it as much.”
This quote taken from one of the videos is something most Singaporeans can relate to. Our communities and cultures are so diverse, it’s impossible to fully capture the depth and complexity of our traditions in one sitting. Deepen your understanding on the Deepavali celebrations by hearing stories from young local Indians and by following featured families in their celebration preparations. Check out their website and Facebook page for more information.
Fun Fact #3: Iran and India share an intellectual history, where many Muslim and Hindu intellectuals during the 1200~1900s wrote texts on Indic traditions and sciences in the Persian language.
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