Deepavali or Diwali, as it is pronounced by the South or North Indians respectively, celebrates its 30th year in Singapore on November 6. The ancient origins of this festival, also known as the Festival of Lights, are recounted through varying legends. According to one version, Deepavali celebrates the return of Lord Rama and his family from exile by the hands of his devious stepmother who ousted him so that her own son could become the ruler. Another version tells the story of Lord Krishna who defeated the demon king Narakasura.
Irrespective of the diversities, the main idea of the festival is the victory of light over darkness and good over evil and is a time of great rejoicing on the Hindu calendar, hence the magnitude of joy, dazzling lights and fireworks.
Over the course of the festival, Hindu homes are decorated both inside and out with flowers and rangoli, the patterned decorations of colored powder or rice strewn across the floors and oil pots placed in doorways and windows, in honor of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and Ganesh, the god of auspicious beginnings. Many Hindu homes are full of family and friends in the lead up to the festival, with everyone wearing new clothes.
Out in the streets, the Serangoon Road area is adorned with garlands and illuminated by around two million brightly colored light bulbs which will stay alight until November 25. Special prayer sessions are held in the equally dazzlingly lit temples, most notably at Singapore’s oldest, the Sri Mariamman Temple, which dates back to 1827.
Across Little India, enormous statues of elephants and peacocks line the streets, the former symbolizing royalty and abundance and the latter victory, love and wisdom, with many shop stalls selling miniature versions as trinkets. For those looking to buy Indian ethnic wear, jewelry, decorations and traditional snacks, such as rice flour pancakes, green mung bean and lentil cakes, Campbell Lane and Hastings Road host the festival bazaar, which is held until the big day on November 6. There is also a special Diwali Fair close to Serangoon Road, along Dunlop Street, with vendors selling earthen lamps, lights, firecrackers, murukku – a deep-fried sweet cookie – and festival souvenirs.
So, whether it’s to take in the visual spectacle, the heady aroma of traditional feasting fare or the flamboyant colors of the bazaars, grab yourself a mug of milky teh tarik and immerse yourself in the experience.
English teacher Hannah, when not in the classroom, is a nighthawk who loves to explore what Singapore has to offer after dark. Between school semesters she is an avid traveler and enjoys hopping over to neighboring countries in Asia.