Also known as Diwali celebrates the victory of light over darkness and good over evil. The word "Deepavali" originates from the Sanskrit words - deepa for lamp and avail, which refers to "a row of". Literally means "a row of lights" or "The Festival of Lights". it is celebrated by most Hindus the world over. Deepavali usually falls around late October or early November. In Singapore, Deepavali is declared a public holiday and all Hindus celebrate it with pomp and gaiety.

 

Legend behind Diwali

 

One Indian legend highlights the victory of Lord Krishna, one of the deities of the Hindu pantheon, over the Demon King, Narakasura. Narakasura terrorized the citizens of India. Lord Krishna was approached for help whom defeated Narakasura and freed the people from his rule of darkness and tyranny on this day. The killing of Narakasura was a victory of good over evil. His death was celebrated especially by lighting of oil lamps.

 

The epic Ramayana is another story about King Dasharatha's eldest son Rama, heir to the kingdom of Ayodhya. Rama was exiled to the forest for 14 years by his stepmother, Kaikeyi as she wanted her son, Barathan to become the King. As a filial son, Rama only returned from exile with his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana, after 14 years. Deepavali is also believed to be celebrated in honour of Rama's return from exile.

 

Oil Lamps

 

Countless flickering Oil Lamps, called vilakku, are lit in houses all over the country. Hindus light oil lamps to represent the victory of light over darkness. The traditional oil lamp is a small clay bowl with a wick and oil. These days, the use of electric bulbs, candles and even tea-lights are becoming common. Hindus also believe that during this festival, the soul of departed relatives come back to earth. Rows of tiny oil lamps are lit to guide these souls on their return journey to the next world.

 

Kolam

 

Decorative designs made with coloured rice flour, called Kolam are drawn on the floor in front of the house to welcome guests during Deepavali. Traditionally drawn by the women of the house, it is done by dribbling the flour between the thumb and forefinger, or by squeezing evenly through a piece of white cloth soaked in a mixture of rice flour and water. Kolam is considered as an important form of artistic expression in India. It is a symbol of good fortune. Why they are drawn with rice flour is so that food can be shared with the lower animals such as insects and birds on this special day. This is in keeping with an important aspect of Hinduism which states that one should treat all life forms equally and care for them. It is believed that the Goddess of Wealth, Lakshmi, will only enter a house adorned with a kolam. Rangoli is the North Indian version of the kolam, using lentils, beans and other edible seeds to create colourful patterns.

 

Viboothi - the holy ash

 

The holy ash is the grey powder which is placed on Hindus' forehead. It is the easiest thing that distinguishes a Hindu from people of other faiths. Using the three fingers on his right hand, he draws three lines across his forehead from left to right. The three lines symbolically represent three aspects of human weakness and failure (arrogance, illusion and sins) and to remind him to turn these into ashes.

 

Offering Items

 

Flowers such as jasmine, chrysanthemums, and any other fragrant flowers are used as offerings to the Gods. Banana is the most popularly used fruit for prayers and festival celebrations. Coconuts are offered in the temple or at home to remind the devotee to rid himself of his false pride and ego and any evil thoughts represented by the hard shell of the coconut and remain pure at heart signified by the white flesh of the coconut.

 

Rituals

 

Spring cleaning the house before Deepavali is a must. It is believed that a thorough spring-cleaning and at times buying new furnishings symbolises the getting rid of the old and unwanted and welcoming the new.

 

Offerings to the Deceased. At least a week before Deepavali, many Hindus observe a ceremony to honour the departed souls of the family. During the ceremony, a vegetarian meal, sweetmeats, fruits, flowers and clothes are placed in front of the photograph of the deceased. The head of the household symbolically offers the food items to the departed souls. Hindus believe that the souls of the deceased will return to their homes to accept offerings from their relatives, around the time of Deepavali. Rows of lamps placed in the household are believed to lead the way back to Heaven for these souls. For this reason, Deepavali is also called Naraka chaturdasi.

 

The family starts the day as early as 4 am by first taking an oil bath. A drop of gingelly oil is dabbed on the head of everyone by the head of the household before a bath is taken. This rite of purification marks a new beginning and all are reminded to rid themselves of evil tendencies and become better individuals. Since water is considered to be the abode of Lord Vishnu, having a bath at home before sunrise is equivalent to having a bath in the sacred River Ganges in India.

 

The lady of the house will light a lamp and a Morning Prayer is observed, first to Ganesha (the elephant-headed God) and then to Lakshmi (the Goddess of Wealth). This is followed by dotting the foreheads of the members of the family with holy ash. This signifies that life is not permanent. The women wear the red pottu or bindi on their foreheads that represent Lakshmi. Younger members of the family are then presented with gold or silver coins on a betel leaf as part of the blessings. New clothes dabbed with a little turmeric for good luck and purification are then worn.

 

The temple visit comes next. The devotees offer prayers to the Gods and make new resolutions. The day is rounded up by a visit to the homes of friends and relatives, feasting on the various delicacies are served. It is a custom to have a vegetarian meal during Deepavali. It is also a common practice in Singapore to invite non-Hindu friends to one's home to celebrate the occasion.