Diwali (also known as Deepavali) is an ancient festival of light, celebrated in Hindu communities across the world. Commemorating the victory of good versus evil and light versus dark, millions of lamps are lit in windows and doorways. These lights also line the streets and decorate the temples, giving the whole celebration an auspicious glow.
The festival typically lasts 5 days, although preparations for it last a whole month, and usually culminates in an impressive fireworks display and a large feast. Diwali is a deeply sacred and joyous occasion for Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs, as well as to some Buddhists. It is customary in India for people to buy new clothes and ritually clean their homes during this time. It is also an occasion for giving gifts to family members and close friends.
Lord Rama and Princess Sita
One of the most important legends associated with Diwali is that of Lord Rama and Princess Sita. Rama, Sita and Rama’s brother Lakshmana were exiled for 14 years, living alone together in the jungle. One day the beautiful Sita was captured by the cruel Lord Ravana and hidden away on an isolated island. While being carried off by Ravana, Sita cleverly dropped pieces of her gold jewellery on the ground creating a trail for Rama to follow.
In imitation of Princess Sita, devout Hindus create trails of light in order to commemorate the rescue of Sita, the victory of Rama over Lord Ravana and the couple’s happy return from exile. Another story associated with Diwali is that of the five Pandava brothers, who were forced to leave their kingdom for 12 years after losing a dice game. After their return from exile, they won a war over their scheming cousins, the Kauravas.
The telling of Hindu epics is a very important part of the season and there are many other tales associated with Diwali. Children will often learn stories from the Ramayana and Mahabharata. This is especially important among immigrant communities of Hindus outside of India, where Diwali is seen as a way for these communities to reconnect with their Indian heritage.
Diwali in Southeast Asia
The biggest Diwali celebrations are held in countries with large numbers of Hindu immigrants, such as Singapore and Malaysia. In these countries, Diwali is recognized as a public holiday and is often used as an occasion to promote goodwill and friendship between religious and ethnic communities.
In Malaysia it is customary for Hindu families to open up their homes and invite non-Hindu neighbours over for a meal. There are major celebrations in Kuala Lumpur and Penang, where streets are filled with music and shops sell traditional wares such as saris, bangles and of course lots of Indian food.
In Singapore, the celebration is mainly centered on the neighbourhood known as Little India. Here the streets are transformed into an impressive display of colour and light. Arches of bright, multi-coloured electric lights illuminate the streets and oil lamps are lit in the windows and doorways of Indian homes.
Diwali is also celebrated by the Indian population of Bali in Indonesia. However, the local Hindus of Bali celebrate a similar but different festival known as Galungan. Galungan is not held on the same dates as Diwali, but also comemorates the victory of light over darkness.
Travel & Diwali
Travelling to a country that is celebrating Diwali is a great opportunity to experience the enchanting atmosphere of this ancient Hindu festival. However, you should be aware that streets may be crowded in some areas and that traffic may be bad, as many devotees are travelling to meet with their friends and families. Diwali is an important shopping season for Hindus, so most businesses should still remain open.
Here are our 5 tips for making the most of travelling during Diwali in Southeast Asia:
- Visit a Hindu temple to light a candle
- Find a local parade or concert
- Give a gift to a local, at your hotel or for your tour guide
- Be respectful and patient during this busy and sacred time
- Go shopping! This is a great time to buy, as many shops will have major Diwali discounts!
We hope you enjoyed this short introduction to Diwali. If you have any questions or you would like to share your own Diwali experience, please leave a comment below.