SEEING that Hindus the world over are celebrating Deepavali or Diwali this weekend, the Eye thought it would be good to shed some light on the celebration of lights. Many described Deepavali as the festival of lights, but could not explain beyond that. Some said “something about good over evil” while others had the impression that it was the Indian New Year (well, for the benefit of non-Indian readers, Deepavali is NOT the Indian New Year!). Many of those whom the Eye approached did not even have a single Indian or Hindu friend!
The Eye then hunted down a friend of Indian ethnicity for some enlightenment on Deepavali. She explained that in India, it wasn’t just the Hindus who celebrated Deepavali. Diwali, as she says it, also has some significance to the Jains and the Buddhists.
While many celebrate it to signify the return of King Rama to Ayodhya and the killing of Ravana who had cast darkness over the land, the often forgotten significance of Diwali is the celebration of enlightenment or awakening of inner light within one self. This, the Eye’s friend explained, referred to overcoming ignorance (darkness) to uphold knowledge and the meaning of life.
She added that Diwali also coincides with the end of the harvest season in India, and thus, it is somewhat significant as to what Gawai is to us here. She mentioned that it was, in some way or another, also significant to Sikhism, but admitted that she did not know that bit to be able to elaborate more.
She explained that the true history of Diwali was hard to explain as there are many variations to the story which differs from region to region throughout the India and the world. However, she stressed that the true essence of Diwali is the prevalence of light (good or knowledge) over darkness (evil or ignorance).
How we celebrate Diwali here in Malaysia
Is pretty much similar to how it is celebrated throughout India and the rest of the world — with homes decorated with lights and flowers; prayers being held, and the serving of Indian sweets, curries and snacks. Malaysians have added another unique touch to the celebration — the open house concept where friends and families visit one another during the auspicious occasion.
First-time travellers to Kuala Lumpur may find restaurants and shops operating as usual during Deepavali, but Indian-owned businesses are closed on Deepavali. A great place to witness the local Hindus preparing for the event is Little India Brickfields, located just a five-minute walk from KL Sentral Station. This prominent street is flocked with locals about a week before, shopping for spices, religious items and decorations, as well as traditional apparel such as saris, Punjabi suits, and colourful bangles.
Hindu temples such as Sri Kondaswamy Kovil Hindu Temple and Sri Mahamariamman Temple make for excellent photo opportunities. Just make sure to dress appropriately (no shorts and sleeveless tops) and head there in the morning as that’s when Hindus conduct prayers and ceremonial rites.
Major shopping malls in Kuala Lumpur such as Pavilion KL, The Gardens Mall, and Suria KLCC are also decorated with an array of colourful lights and Deepavali decorations. A unique display you’ll find at the entrance of these shopping venues is kolam, an intricate floor design that’s made with coloured rice and powder. Usually created several weeks before Deepavali, designs are typically of flowers and animals such as peacocks and elephants.
Many living in Sarawak have yet to experience a Diwali open house. And, in recent years, many have called for Diwali to be declared a public holiday there. In the spirit of One Malaysia, these calls were made by those who do not even celebrate Diwali! The Eye hopes that these calls were sincere and not made for the sake having yet another public holiday.