Deepavali (a term more commonly used by South Indians), or Diwali (a term more commonly used by North Indians) are literally translated as “a row of lights”. Deepavali or Diwali is celerated on the 15th day of Kartik, the holiest month in the Hindu lunar calendar. It is more affectionately known as the Festival of Lights. Many Indians from various religions celebrate this holy festival.
In Northern India, Diwali is a day to remember Lord Rama's return to Ayodhya after he defeated Ravana. Upon his return, villagers decorated the entire village with lamps and lit crackers to welcome him back. He was also crowned the King thereafter.
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Deepavali is celebrated by the South Indians as the day Lord Krishna defeated the demon Narakasura. In South India, Deepavali starts one day before the actual day of the festival (on the Amavas). In Tamil Nadu, where most Singaporean Indians today can trace to their heritage, crackers are burnt on both days, children get to don new outfits, exchange homemade Deepvali sweets with one another and visit relatives.
Sweets are a must when celebrating the Festival of Light!
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As cultures get increasingly marred together, Indians come together to celebrate this holy festival. Houses are typically lit up with lots of light, and different parts of the house would be decorated with diyas (or traditional clay/oil lamps) to eliminate any darkness from the surroundings. It is believed that Light is an important symbol that symbolizes the spiritual "victory of light over darkness", and is a reflection of the winning of battles with the light triumphing the darkness that is evil.
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Puja, or aarthi, meaning prayers, are offered to the gods to give thanks, and to pray for continued blessings in the years ahead.
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Rangoli are floor designs made using colourful powders or coloured rice. Other materials used today to make rangoli include flowers, or chemical colours such as red brick powder or dye. Traditionally, natural colours such as turmeric powder were used to add colour.
The design chosen by the artist has different religious implications. Often, these designs are passed from one generation to the next. The designs for rangoli can be as simple as a geometric shape, a deity impression, a flower or a shape of a petal. More elaborate designs take several people to work together for the finished product.
During Diwali, North Indians welcome goddess Lakshmi. Prayers are offered to her, asking for her blessings that bring them wealth. The rangoli design is a sincere gesture created at the entrance of the house, to welcome both guests as well as the goddess herself.
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Sweets are a need during the Deepavali/Diwali season. During visiting of relatives, homemade sweets are exchanged. The spirit of giving is strongly entrenched within religion and that giving without expectations of any benefits is the best way to give, which will benefit both the giver and receiver. Sweets are an important motif as well. In every festival, celebration or occasion, sweets are a must as part of a meal. Moreover, sweets signify prosperity, happiness and affection!
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Other types of food served include vegetarian food including channa (chickpeas), saag (spinach), Daal (Lentils), and drinks such as lassi (yogurt drinks). A mix of sweet and savoury will be served to celebrate the festivities.
There are many types of traditional costumes that Indians of different religion wear. The main ones Singaporeans see often are saris/sarees for women and dhoti with a traditional top for men.
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How to Wear a Sari/Saree:
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How to Wear a Dhoti:
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Henna, also known as Mendhi, is made with grinded henna leaves from the henna plant. A paste is churned out with water when grinded with the henna leaves. The henna paste leaves a reddish brown or dark brown stain that lasts up to two weeks. Although traditional henna simply wanted the benefit of having cooler hands and feet, henna has been transformed into an art, with an endless possibility of designs and usage. Today, this natural dark dye is used in bridal ceremonies as a part of a female's ritual when preparing for a wedding, and for the dyeing of hair or nails.
How Henna is Made
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Today, instead of merely drawing circles on the palms of the hands, henna is used in creating intricate swirls, florals and mandela designs that adorn one's palms, arms, hands and feet. The henna paste is added into a cone, where the tip would be cut such that a small amount of paste comes out in every squeeze. This ensures the cone works like a pen, such that detailed designs can be created. Other types of cones would have a plastic tip to replace the manual cutting of the tip of the henna cone.
Today, other versions of henna are also available to beautify one's hands as part of the festivities. Although these alternatives are not lasting, they are a nice alternative or can be used as an additional step when it is used alongside the traditional dark henna.
- Glitter Henna
Glitter henna is fine glitter and medical grade glue in a cone that can be a fun add-on to complement with the traditional henna, or it can be used as a whole henna design on its own!
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- White Henna
Besides being an adorning decoration on the hands and feet, the henna paste also contains healing properties that include headaches, fever, diaper rash and helps regulate blood pressure! Today, henna is also used as a formula for a natural hair dye!
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How Singapore Celebrates Deepavali:
- Hipster Bazar (23 September to 26 October 2019)
This year’s Deepavali celebrations in Little India features a Deepavali Hipster Bazaar. It will be held at the field beside Tekka Lane, next to Race Course Road, from 10 am to 10 pm.
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- Indian Heritage Centre Deepavali Open House (12, 19 & 26 October 2019)
The Indian Heritage Centre will be hosting its Deepavali Open House with games and activities for visitors to learn more about the Indian heritage and have fun at the same time!
- Amarkala Deepavali (Deepavali Countdown Concert)
On the eve of Deepavali (26 October 2019), a countdown concert will be held at Mackenzie Road from 8 pm to midnight to ring in the festivities. If you cannot make the event, don't worry as the entire celebration will be broadcasted live!
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- Secret Tales of Little India (9 November 2019)
Go on guided tour of the back lanes of Little India to uncover the secrets and stories of the place!
More information on the different events taking place at Little India for Deepavali 2019 can be found here.
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As the Deepavali festivities approach us, let us all appreciate the colours, lights, wafting smells of flowers in a lady's hair and scattered around a rangoli we come across. The Festival of Lights is the most important festival for most Indians, and it is heartwarming to see many Singaporeans learning more about the heritage and culture of our Deepavali/Diwali-celebrating friends and family.
Happy Deepavali or Diwali everyone!
~Have a ho (good) week! 😊~