Loud cheers and laughter as gambling parties are held in the house. Loved ones gather around to play Blackjack and poker in the late hours of a Deepavali night.
Elsewhere, festive light decorations along the stretch of Serangoon Road – streets filled with bustling activity and throngs of people.
One is a tradition practised in Mumbai, the other in our very own Singapore – yet both stay true to the joyous and warm spirit that comes with Deepavali, despite the vast difference in celebration styles.
As Deepavali dawns on us tomorrow, it’s time to know more about the world’s most important Hindu festival.
The Beginning – How It All Started
As with most occasions, there are several myths associated with Deepavali – popularly known as the Festival of Light. With its name originating from the row (avali) of clay lamps (deepa) used by Hindus for the festival, these stories often have the common theme of good triumphing over evil.
Among the many variations, two in particular hold greater significance.
In South India, Deepavali commemorates the slaying of demon king Naraka (also known as Naraksura), who oppressed his people and instilled fear in them. Summoned by the people’s prayers, Lord Krishna eventually defeated the demon king.
It’s a tale that aptly translates to the idea of Deepavali, for Naraka’s rule was likened to darkness, and his death was perceived as the dispelling of darkness to welcome light.
Meanwhile, North India’s account tells a story of redemption and victory.
In it, Lord Rama of Ayuthya was deprived of his rights to the throne and subjected to a 14-year exile in the forest. Similarly, he defeated the demon Ravana in battle, and reclaimed his throne.
Deepavali may be the festival of lights, but it’s also a celebration of individual goodness and righteous triumph.
The Less-Observed Traditions
What is a festival without some celebrations?
In Singapore, the practices adopted lean towards older traditions, such as taking oil bath cleansing rituals, gathering for meals with traditional food, and decorating the doorways of homes with rangoli.
While the traditions adhered to varies with each household, there’s a common custom that seems to be less observed for Singaporean Hindus. Due to a hectic lifestyle, most are unable to wake up right before sunrise – a practice that is meant to mark a new beginning.
Additionally, there’s also the ‘Annakut’ that is commemorated on the fourth day of Deepavali, where prayers are offered to mounds of food grains, jaggery, and sweets for the deities.
Meanwhile in Mumbai, a spate of gambling parties can be seen across homes during Deepavali, born from the belief that the Goddess of Wealth can be invoked through gambling.
On the last day of the festival, siblings also show mutual appreciation and love for each other. In the towns and villages of India, a sister cooks for her brother while he bestows gifts on her.
However different our customs are from that of India’s, what matters most is the joy, warmth, and love that comes with the spirit of Deepavali – and I’m sure there’s plenty of that to come!