Living in a country like Singapore means living amid many cultures and ethnicities. As we commonly hear, Singapore is a melting pot of so many different identities, and we’re so privileged to have so many stories living among us.
Today is Deepavali! And while many of us may be seeking rest on this public holiday, little do you know of the buzz of excitement and celebration going on in the households of the Indian community, or rather, the buzz that has been going on for days leading up to this one.
Well to clarify, there are many different cultures even amongst the Indian community – and each has its own interpretation and reason to celebrate Deepavali. In fact, the way the festival is pronounced is different too! While ‘Deepavali’ is the Tamil term, ‘Diwali’ is often used by North Indians. However, the reason we Singaporeans most often hear and use the term ‘Deepavali’ is due to the simple fact that Tamil is one of our national languages!
That being said, the festival of lights is celebrated differently by different households. It is largely celebrated by the Hindus. As a Sikh, I attest that Deepavali is not the grandest affair of the year for us, but it is still one of the highlights of our year. There are still many things most Indian households do in common (aside from the customary rituals) to prepare for and celebrate this dazzling festival! (Of course, getting dressed is one of the most thrilling highlights of the day!)
Firstly, of course, is the cleaning. Something I’m sure all of us relate to, when it comes to a special occasion or festival! Cleaning the house, throwing away the old stuff, replacing it with the new and making the house look not just presentable, but brand new – these are the must-do’s, aren’t they?
After the cleaning, you go shopping for decorations and gifts! When it comes to Deepavali shopping, no place quite provides everything you need like Little India! That place comes alive, and the exhilaration of the occasion is most certainly in the air. From sweets to decorations, anything you need is right there! Hence, the sea of people you see in Little India is no surprise during this time of year.
Then, to prepare for the actual day, the decorations! Now, this is where it gets exciting. The house is decorated with flowers, new plants, and for some, a rangoli! A rangoli is a form of art where powered colours are used to make bold, bright patterns that sit right at the entrance of your home, greeting you as you enter.
Then on the actual day, you decorate with the lights! Well, you see, the terms ‘Deepavali’ and ‘Diwali’ are variations of the Sanskrit word for “row of lights”. So of course, you have to adorn your home with beautiful lights! Almost every home that celebrates Deepavali will have some oil lamps and candles decorated outside of their home. It’s the main event, if I do say so myself.
A personal tradition in my home is to turn on the lights of every room in the house in the evening and as we devour our feast. Understandable that it’s not the most environmentally-friendly tradition, it is still a sight to behold, to see all the lights in your home turned on, even if it is for an hour out of the whole year.
And then on the day itself, prayers and giving thanks are a must. Visiting the temple with your family is the most important event of the day.
As each culture completes their own rituals and traditions that this wonderful day asks of them, it’s time for what I believe is the reason I look forward to Deepavali all year – the food!
It’s typical to have some tasty sweets (sort of like desserts!) throughout the day. It’s a day when the ill forget their diet restrictions and sneak some sweet dishes in the name of celebration! And during dinner, at least five dishes are present in front of you as you feast on some fabulous food with your family.
As I recount all the years I spent celebrating Deepavali with my family, I also can’t help but feel a tinge of heartache thinking about the way COVID-19 – that has seemingly trapped us in an endless night – has destroyed this celebration of light and cheer.
We can only roam in groups of two, and only two people are allowed to visit another’s home. What’s a celebration without the spirit of togetherness? It seems like a distant dream to have huge family dinners and to light sparklers with your family in your void deck. It’s a pity that what appeared to be so typical, is now so difficult to do today. What does the word ‘normal’ even mean anymore?
It’s ironic how we celebrate the festival of lights in this time of great darkness. But maybe, this is what we need. Perhaps this is the wake-up call we all needed to get us to come together in camaraderie and do our part to eradicate this virus once and for all. Maybe, just maybe, this is the start of our journey to normalcy.
Nonetheless, the show must go on! We can always order in loads of food to eat with our own families and spend quality time with them. We may not be able to dine out, but eating in the comfort of our own homes may scream celebration more than you realise! So indulge in the lights of your home, light some candles and oil lamps, and give thanks to your loved ones.
After all, a celebration is best enjoyed with the people you’re closest to. Don’t you think so?
May this festival of lights illuminate our path to normalcy, one that we can all walk together to finally free ourselves from the clutches of this horrific virus. Happy Deepavali, Singapore!
Visuals courtesy of @javan, @newpane.tapan11, @p_a_trick, @bhuwadsrushti02, @julienajarry, @the_random_traveller and @ishweryalaxshmi via Twenty20.