There was once a demon that embodied all that was evil. After a fateful battle, a Hindu deity banished him with light and he was never to be seen again. This is the legend of Deepavali, the Festival of Lights.
The moral of the legend is that light represents hope and joy. The bright light seen in the flames of simple clay lamps in Hindu temples and homes, inspires all that is festive about Deepavali. So, don’t shy away from the light, because you don’t have to be Hindu to partake in the celebration!
1. Rich in ritual
Deepavali literally translates to ‘a row of lights’
Kolam or Rangoli translates to ‘rows of colours’
More than mesmerising decorations, did you know a lot of the displays you see during Deepavali are held fast in spiritual beliefs too?
For one, you’ll find rows of clay lamps filled with oil and cotton wicks illuminating the pathways. Hindus believe that deities will not enter a house shrouded in darkness, which is why it’s especially important for them to keep the oil lamps shining bright so blessings can enter.
You’d also spot intricate patterns on the floor made with coloured sand or rice, flower petals and sometimes even flour, called Kolam or Rangoli. These vibrant displays are believed to trap the negative energy in the air before it gets a chance to enter the homes.
Bathing in oil symbolises the dispelling of darkness within the spirit
To prepare themselves, many Hindus also wake up before sunrise to engage in Abhyangasnan (oil baths), where the oldest member of the family places three drops of sesame oil on the scalps of the rest, before everyone massages oil on their bodies, followed by a shower. It’s believed that engaging in Abhyangasnan has equal spiritual merit to bathing in the holy river Ganges in India.
2. Flowing with festivities
Each year, the streets of Little India flicker to life based on a theme constructed around an animal in the Hindu mythology
Deepavali celebrations in Singapore are a lavish affair. As the neighbourhoods of Little India illuminate with larger-than-life light displays, streets are blocked off for the annual Deepavali Festival Village. The bazaar truly comes alive at night as the white fluorescent lights bounce off a variety of trinkets and treats — and if you look up, you’ll find a canopy of colourful ornaments livening the atmosphere of the entire festival.
Location: Campbell Lane to Hastings Road
Mon – Sun: 10:00am to 10:00pm
A second, smaller, bazaar — the Deepavali Fair — runs concurrently in an open field opposite Mustafa Centre, a 24-hour shopping mall stocked with everything from sporting goods to electronics, and great for a late-night shopping spree after your festive shopping too!
Location: Opposite Mustafa Centre, 145 Syed Alwi Road, Singapore 207704
Mon – Sun: 5:00pm to 11:00pm
Different coloured bangles denote different blessings: Red for prosperity, green for good luck, yellow for happiness, white for new beginnings and orange for success
While you’re bazaar-hopping, pick up a Sari, a traditional garment for women that represents modesty, and treated with utmost respect. Wear it as is or transform it into a dazzling tunic, paired with shimmering bangles. To complete the look, get yourself a henna, a semi-permanent tattoo made from henna leaves, and applied during Hindu occasions. A traditional art form, henna is considered auspicious and joyous. Choose from traditional Indian floral motifs to modern designs at the henna booths in both bazaars.
3. Tuck into delicious treats
Lastly, what’s a festival without treats? Sweet or savoury, the titbits of Deepavali abound across Little India.
Athi Resam is Tamil for “the supreme taste”
To satisfy your sweet tooth, dig in to snacks like the Athi Resam, an Indian doughnut with cardamom; and Jalebi, a deep-fried flour mixture soaked in citrus-infused syrup that oozes out as you bite down. If you’re more of a savoury person, try Vadai, some are filled with prawns and others with green chilli; or Murruku, which satisfyingly crunches as you chew.
Murruku literally translates to “twisted”, and while it’s a labour-intensive affair, many Hindu families still make their own Murukku during Deepavali
Indian favourites meet modern dining at The Song of India
If you need a more substantial meal, consider the festive menus offered at some Indian restaurants during Deepavali. Southeast Asia’s only one-Michelin Star Indian restaurant, The Song of India, for instance, offers a celebration menu together with their annual Mithai (Indian sweets) gift boxes for a limited period only. Innovative and limited-edition sweet flavours — such as juicy Alphonso mango combined with smooth white chocolate and gilded with edible silver — are introduced every year.
Address: 33 Scotts Road, Singapore 228226
Telephone: +65 6836 0055
Mon – Sun: 12:00pm to 3:00pm, 6:00pm to 11:00pm
Although Deepavali celebration methods may vary around the world, there is a commonality in the hope, community and cheer this festival ignites. So, immerse yourself in the festivity and live it up! After all, Deepavali is all about lighting up lives.
If you would like to learn more about the Indian community in Singapore, go on a journey of cultural exploration at the Indian Heritage Centre in Little India which has a permanent exhibition: ‘Indians in Singapore – Past & Present’.