Known for its colour and revelry, the Hindu Festival of Light is one of the largest celebrations in the world.
Deepavali, or Diwali (as they often call it in India) is an integral festive celebration for Hindus. In Singapore, this is when Little India lights up – oil lamps dot families’ doorsteps and kids play outside with sparklers. Keep reading for everything to know about this beautiful festival.
What is Deepavali?
Deepavali (also known as The Festival of Lights) is one of the major festivals celebrated by Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and some Buddhists – notably Newar Buddhists. The festival usually lasts five days and is celebrated during the Hindu lunisolar month of Kartika, which typically falls between mid-October and mid-November each year, on the night of a new moon (which is said to be the darkest night of the year). This year, Deepavali falls on November 4.
Various legends give rise to Deepavali’s origins. One of the most popular: when Lord Krishna defeated the Demon King Narakaasur – making this holiday all about the victory of good over evil, or light over darkness. The festival is also widely associated with Lakshmi, goddess of prosperity.
Diwali is celebrated over five days…
Day 1: Homes are cleaned and it’s tradition to shop for gold (and other decorations) as a way to help bring good fortune.
Day 2: Homes are decorated with clay or oil lamp and rangolis are created on the porch of homes.
Day 3: On the main day of celebration, families gather for Lakshmi pooja, also known as a prayer to the Goddess Lakshmi. This is followed by feast and fireworks.
Day 4: This marks the first day of the new year. Friends and family gather to visit and exchange greetings and best wishes.
Day 5: Brothers visit their married sisters, of which the latter welcomes them with love and a lavish meal.
What are some of the traditions practiced during Deepavali?
Lighting up the home with oil lamps and rangoli
On the first day of Diwali, Indians clean their homes and create intricately beautiful rangoli – artwork make with coloured rice, sand or flowers on the floors of their home. Homes are also traditionally illuminated with oil lamps – usually placed on window sills and doorways. This is also done to invite the Goddess Lakshmi into the home.
It is believed that the Goddess Lakshmi only enters clean home. As such, ensuring that the home is squeaky clean is an age-old tradition during Diwali.
Men dress in traditional kurtas (and sometimes dhoti), while the women wear sarees. Women also adorn beautifully designed henna on their hands and feet as a way to signify femininity, beauty, good luck and happiness.
Whether you’ve been invited to a friend’s place in SG or just looking to sample some typical food served for this holiday, try mithai. This sweet delicacy – eaten as snacks and desserts – are given to friends and family during Deepavali as a symbol of good luck and prosperity. It is made with an array of ingredients that include sugar, milk, nuts, different flours, Indian spices and fruit.
Other sweets like chakli (deep-fried flour made with several spices), peda (a doughy snack made with cardamom seeds, pistachio and saffron), barfi (powdered milk and sugar) and ladoo (sweetened round balls made from flour, sugar and ghee) are common during celebrations, too.
Diwali is a time for friends and family. So don’t be shy to accept an invitation from your Indian to a party during Diwali! During this time, your host will prepare festive meals as a mark of the celebration. Do remember to dress appropriately and bring gifts as a form of courtesy and respect. (See below for more information!)
Deepavali Dos + Don’ts
Here’s what you should and shouldn’t do if you’re invited to a friend’s home for the holiday:
- Wear a traditional outfit. The more bling, the better! It’s a great way to immerse yourself in the culture. Head to Level 2 of Tekka Centre or Haniffa Textiles, opposite Tekka Centre, for a wide range of sarees and Indian suits. Want something with a little bling and glam? Shop at Jewel Palace.
- Bring a small gift. Boxes of chocolate, tins of cakes and sweets and fruit hampers are a good way to start.
- Try the dishes offered by your host. It’s impolite to refuse what is served. You can eat with your right hand, or use cutlery if you prefer.
- Bring alcoholic beverages. Also, steer clear of food items with beef.
- Wear skimpy clothes or anything black or white. These colours are commonly associated with funerals.
Diwali, as known and celebrated across the world
No matter where you are, these lights will guide you home. Read on to see how Diwali is celebrated in different parts of the globe.
Diwali is India’s biggest holiday and has, over the centuries, become a festival celebrated and appreciated by non-Hindu communities, too. For example, in Jainism, Diwali marks the spiritual awakening of Lord Mahavira while the Sikhs honour Guru Hargobind Ji’s (the sixth Sikh guru) release from imprisonment.
The Hindu celebration of Diwali in Northern India is more focused on the homecoming of the God Rama, after he has triumphed over the evil King Ravana. Apart from small clay lamps, colourful lanterns and other decorations adorn houses and shops during Diwali.
In the south, Lord Krishna takes the reign. Krishna is one of the most widely worshipped deities, known to give protection to its followers. In the city if Bhopal, people perform a religious ritual pooja (also known as prayer) to honour Krishna’s defeat over the malevolent Lord Indra.
Over at the west, the Diwali is celebrated to mark Lord Vishnu’s victory over the demon King Bali.
As a national holiday, the streets of Little India light up during Deepavali. Pre-Covid, you can find many night bazaars, open-air concerts, live exhibitions during this festival. Many also head to Tekka Market to shop for everything that’s needed for the celebrations, from food, clothes, decorations and many more.
This year, head to the streets of Serangoon and Race Course roads in Little India to bask in the dazzling lights of street decorations for the upcoming celebrations.
United Arab Emirates (UAE)
Celebrations go on for five days in the UAE. Many will flock to establishments in Dubai to buy gold, traditional sweets, clothes, decorations and more. Bollywood Parks, a resort inspired by the thriving Bollywood film industry also holds special live performances, light shows and beautiful rangoli displays.
Known as the Hindu kingdom of the world, Diwali celebrations in Nepal are known as “Tihar” or “Swanti”. The Goddess Lakshmi is also celebrated here, with one of every five days having a special significance.
On the first day, cows and worshipped and given offerings. The second day of Tihar is also a time to worship and honour dogs, in a celebration called Kukar Tihar. Dogs are draped in garlands with a tilak on its forehead to respect its loyalty for humans. The third day’s celebrations are similar to that in India. The fourth day honours Yama, the God of Death. The final day sees brothers visiting their sisters, with comes with a hearty meal and gift-exchange.
The city of Leicester is notable for its extravagant Diwali celebrations. The official lights-on ceremony is also the main highlight of Leicester during Diwali. Homes are also similarly decorated with beautiful lights, oil lamps and rangoli.
Originally by Hazel Vincent De Paul + Sandhya Mahadevan / Updated + Additional Reporting by Willaine G. Tan.
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