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Deepavali: Behind The Lights

Destinations
Deepavali: Behind The Lights

Whether you call it ‘Deepavali’ or ‘Diwali’, it all ultimately comes down to choosing light over darkness, celebrating humanity and spreading positivity

 

With the final quarter of the year comes the colourful, effervescent and boisterous Indian celebration of Deepavali with Malaysian Hindus – and millions around the world, along with the Sikhs and Jains – enthusiastically scurrying to get their abodes spick and span, and shopping for brand new fancy clothes for the special occasion – in between getting their hands on sparklers and firecrackers. And of course, hand-making an array of both savoury and sweet Deepavali goodies to nibble on non-stop during the festival, though it’s becoming a norm these days to simply purchase ready-made ones.

 

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Adding to the merriment and rainbow of colours would be meticulous – and painstakingly-created – ‘rangoli’, a colourful pattern-art created on the floor or courtyards using crushed rice or flowers in various colours.

 

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Clay lamps or 'diyas' (L); rangoli certainly is a labour of love

Deepavali or ‘Diwali’ (as it’s known outside of South India, Malaysia and Singapore) usually falls between late October and early November based on the Indian lunar calendar. It marks a time to come together and rejoice the triumph of good over evil, to glorify light over darkness. To signify this, it’s customary to illuminate homes and temples by lighting rows of oil lamps, usually made of clay (called ‘diyas’) throughout its duration – hence its renowned moniker the ‘festival of lights’. It is also believed that the trail of ‘diyas’ would guide Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth, into homes and offices so that the occupants could receive blessings of prosperity.

Triumph Of Good Over Evil

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Epic battle between Lord Rama and the 10-headed demon king Ravana

So what’s really the root of this ‘good over evil’ story? Well, that sort of depends on whom you ask, or rather which part of India that person is a descendant of as the legend tends to vary. However, the most popular is derived off Ramayana – one of the two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India – which tells the story of Lord Rama, who following a 14-year exile, returns to his kingdom after saving his wife Sita from the evil clutches of Lankan ruler Ravana in the 15th century BC, and ultimately defeating the 10-headed demon king in a larger-than-life battle immortalized for the ages.

Deepavali All Over The Globe

Along with Malaysia and Singapore, there is a number of other countries outside of India that also celebrate the ‘festival of lights’ with immense zeal.

Geographically located closer to India, both Nepal and Sri Lanka celebrate Diwali with much fanfare. The former, however, call it ‘Tihar’, which is the second biggest festival in the nation after Dashain; the festival predominantly honours crows (‘the messenger of death’), dogs (‘the guardian for the god of death’), cows (as a sign of gratitude), and Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth.

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Indonesia is mostly populated by Muslims, however Hindus comprise 2%, and most are based on the island of Bali, hence celebrations there are filled with pomp, oozing with that one-of-a-kind vibe you only get to experience on the ‘Island of the Gods’.

It comes as no surprise that Diwali is huge in the United Kingdom with a deep-rooted history between them and India going back centuries. In fact, Chicken Tikka Masala has been adopted as a true British national dish. With 1.4 million Indians living in the UK, Diwali is celebrated in a grand way especially in Birmingham and Leicester where there are large concentrations of Indians.

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Diwali Festival on Trafalgar Square in London, England

Over in Canada, Punjabi is actually the third official language in the Canadian parliament – with 4% of the population having Indian ancestry. So much so Canada has earned the moniker ‘Mini Punjab’ due to the large number of Punjabis there. So, needless to say, Diwali is HUGE here.

South Africa, meanwhile, is home to over 1.2 million people of Indian descent, with the first Indians having arrived during the Dutch colonial era in 1684 as slaves – most of them concentrated in Kwa-Zulu Natal’s largest city, Durban. Naturally, its local culinary landscape has been infused with Indian influences – and of course, the religious and cultural festivities, including Diwali.

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Then we have the islands with large Indian populations such as Mauritius, which lies 2,400km southeast of Africa mainland, and about 3,900km southwest of India. Fifty percent of its population is comprised of Hindus, so Diwali is a public holiday here and celebrated in a magnificent way.

Over in Fiji, 38% of its population is made up of Indians, mostly descendants of labourers brought to the islands to work on sugar plantations by British colonial rulers between 1879 and 1916. Indians here get to party it up as Diwali is also a public holiday here.

Part of the Caribbean islands, Trinidad & Tobago also honours Diwali – marked as a national holiday – with over 30% of its population comprising Indians whose forefathers originated mainly from northern India. Along with homes and communities, Diwali festivities are extended to other groups eager to embrace the festival by organising exciting events filled with Indian food, music and dance.

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Celebrations at Yokohama’s Yamashita Park in Japan

Now here’s one you wouldn’t have guessed in a million years – Japan. No kidding. More than 200,000 people are expected to celebrate Diwali in Yokohama’s Yamashita Park this year, making this one of the largest India-related events in the ‘Land of the Rising Sun’. Expect loads of food including curries and breads, music and Bollywood-style dancing!

 

 

Photos © iStock by Getty Images (unless otherwise specified)

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