Deepavali/ Diwali or the Festival of Lights
Deepavali/ Diwali, or the Festival Of Lights, is a festival predominantly celebrated by the Hindu community. The festival begins just before the arrival of a new moon in the Hindu months of Asvina and Kartika- typically between October and November of the Gregorian calendar. The significance of the festival of lights is the celebration of light triumphing over darkness, and of good over evil. For certain groups of other faiths, Diwali also holds some spiritual significance for them- in Jainism, Diwali marks the nirvana, or spiritual awakening of Lord Mahavira on October 15, 527 B.C. In Sikhism on the other hand, Diwali honours the day that Guru Hargobind Ji, the Sixth Sikh Guru, was freed from imprisonment. In this article, we will be looking at the stories behind Deepavali, and some of the unique customs/ traditions practiced by the Hindu community to date.
There is no single origin story for Deepavali as it varies based on where it is told; different states in India have their own versions of Deepavali’s origin stories. In Malaysia, the oldest person in numerous Hindu families narrates the story of Deepavali as a celebration of Lord Krishna’s triumph over the demon King Narak, also known as ‘Narakasura’, or ‘Narak the Demon’. King Narak was initially a regular man- however, he turned power hungry once crowned King, which developed feeling of rage and hatred within him. He ruled his kingdom in opposition to the sacred teachings of Vedic Law, leading to the immense suffering of his subjects, and rampant violence throughout the kingdom. When evil had wholly consumed him, he became known as Narakasura. Having captured 16,000 people in a raid to torture and massacre them, Narakasura was stopped by Lord Krishna, who rescued his victims and killed him. As the people of Narakasura’s kingdom were poisoned by vice, Lord Krishna helped them redeem themselves through teachings from the Vedic path, preaching that every observer of Hinduism should realise the light in themselves.Hence, the ancient Vedic phrase: “Lead me from darkness to light”. According to the Vedas, it is this light that will illuminate human lives and eliminate evil thoughts, words and deeds. It is this teaching which forms the heart of the Festival of Lights.
Customs and Traditions on Deepavali
Cleaning The House
During Deepavali, a clean abode is said to welcome the Goddess of Wealth and Fortune to grace the home, and to bless the family. It also helps that, since visits are common during festive occasions, a clean house is ready to welcome guests at all times.
Having Oil Baths
On Deepavali Day, a common practise is for the household to rise early, and for family elders to massage younger members (usually children) in sesame oil, before their baths. Symbolically, an oil bath symbolises good luck and new beginnings, while from a health and wellness standpoint, sesame oil is beneficial in reducing heat from the body.
The tradition of decorating the entrance to one’s home with kolam/rangoli is a long time practice in Hindu communities. Kolam artwork is typically made with rice flour, while rangoli artwork is made with coloured rice/ rice flour. This decoration instantly lifts the festive spirit, especially when every house is decorated with all types of kolam/rangoli, from the simplest to amazingly intricate designs! Rice flour is also an eco-friendly decoration choice as opposed to coloured powders which can harm insects/ ants.
Making 'oil pot' snacks
Deepavali is often associated with eating lots and lots of snack- with murukku chief among them! This is due to the tradition of “Ennai Chatti” or Oil Pot, where deep fried sweets and snacks are prepared as a sign of good luck and prosperity. The preparation of these snacks also serves as an opportunity for the entire family/ extended family to come together to prepare (and enjoy) the snacks.
Lighting of Lamps
Deepavali is a Tamil word derived from the Sanskrit ‘Dipavali’ , which means ‘row of lights’. On Deepavali night, rows of clay lamps are lit to celebrate, and represent, the triumph of light over darkness.
Such is the beauty of Malaysia that even non-Hindus join in the festivities and light up the celebrations alongside the Hindu community. It is this sense of diversity and multiculturalism which helps foster a sense a unity among us. And on that note, Happy Deepavali Malaysia!