Known for its colour and revelry, the Hindu festival of Deepavali makes Little India a must-visit right now.
Deepavali, or Diwali (as they often call it in India), is the Festival of Lights – where oil lamps dot Little India’s doorsteps and kids play outside with sparklers. It falls between October and November each year, on the night of a new moon, which is said to be the darkest night of the year (this year, October 27). Various legends give rise to Deepavali’s origins. One of the most popular: when Lord Krishna defeated the Demon King Narakaasur – making this holiday all about the victory of good over evil, or light over darkness. This is how people celebrate it in Singapore.
After a thorough cleaning of every nook and cranny, Hindu people decorate the entrance to their homes with kolam, or rangoli, a colourful and elaborate drawing done by hand with coloured rice, flour or chalk (pictured above). These drawings are meant to welcome visitors and Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity and wealth, into the home.
The day before the festival, Buffalo Road in Little India is abuzz with activity as families finish their last-minute shopping for flowers, floral garlands made of jasmine, marigold and red rose, vegetables and prayer items.
The Deepavali Bazaar at Campbell Lane is one not to be missed. This lane is a treasure trove of Indian goodies, from traditional attire to delicacies to lamps or diyas in every colour and design imaginable his year. On-the-spot henna decorations on skin (pictured) are available too.
Families also prepare delicious Indian snacks and sweets for Deepavali, such as murukku, a savoury fried cracker, and laddu, a yellow, sugary ball made from flour. You can try them at Komala Vilas Restaurant (76-78 Serangoon Rd). For a taste of North Indian sweets like kaju katli, a cashewnut cake and kesar peda, a milk sweet and a variety of savouries, check out the lively bazaars at the Little India Arcade (48 Serangoon Rd).
On Deepavali morning, Indian people have traditional oil baths, where oil is massaged into the scalp and body and washed off with warm water, before donning colourful new clothes. They perform prayers and rituals at the home altar or shrine, and the younger family members prostrate themselves before their elders to seek blessings. The family then heads to the temple to pray before gathering with friends and relatives to enjoy a delicious feast. At night, the oil lamps and sparklers come out!
Deepavali Dos & Don’ts
Here’s what you should and shouldn’t do if you’re invited to a friend’s home for the holiday:
- Wear a traditional outfit. The more bling, the better! It’s a great way to immerse yourself in the culture. Head to Level 2 of Tekka Centre (664 Buffalo Rd) or Haniffa Textiles, opposite Tekka Centre, for a wide range of sarees and Indian suits. Want something more trendy or glam? Shop at Jewel Palace (6 Buffalo Rd).
- Bring a small gift. Boxes of chocolate, tins of cakes and sweets and fruit hampers are a good way to start.
- Try the dishes offered by your host. It’s impolite to refuse what is served. You can eat with your right hand, or use cutlery if you prefer.
- Bring alcoholic beverages. Also, steer clear of food items with beef.
- Wear skimpy clothes or anything black or white. These colours are commonly associated with funerals.
By Hazel Vincent De Paul + Sandhya Mahadevan, November 2018 / Updated October 2019