11 November 2017
Every year, Hindus all around the world celebrate Deepavali during the seventh month of the Tamil lunar calendar. The festival symbolises the triumph of good over evil when, according to one legend, Lord Krishna defeated the evil King Narakasura.
Deepavali, which means “Row of Lights” in Sanskrit, is celebrated by Hindus who light oil lamps in their homes as a victorious symbol of light over darkness.
In Malaysia, Deepavali is celebrated on a grand scale at the national level with an “open house” concept, which is unique to this country. The Open House celebration sees Malaysians of all races and religions celebrating each other’s religious and cultural festivals together and proves that racial tolerance, understanding, respect and unity are observed and treasured in this multi-racial country.
Celebrations begin on the eve of Deepavali when family members gather in the house of the elders. It is a time for families to end feuds and settle misunderstandings.
Everyone wakes up before sunrise the following morning to bathe in sesame seed oil (also known as gingelly oil) to purify their bodies and cleanse themselves of sins of the past year. They then dress up in new clothes – sarees and Punjabi suits for the women and jippas and veshtis (long-sleeved tunics and sarongs) for the men – and gather with the rest of the family to receive blessings from their elders. Sometimes, packets of money are given to the younger members of the family.
A typical Deepavali spread includes Indian food such as rice and curries for the mains, and tidbits such as murukku, a crispy, savoury snack made of rice flour, and sweet coconut candy.
At the front entrance of the house, it’s typical to find a colourful kolam or rangoli, a decorative artwork made from dyed rice flour or rice laid out on the floor in interesting motifs of flowers and symmetrical shapes, lines and curves. Creating the kolam requires a steady hand, dexterity, concentration and patience. Besides their decorative value, kolams are believed to invite the Goddess of Wealth, Mahalakshmi, to bless the homes where they are found. This year, Deepavali will fall on 18 October, which is a national holiday but the national-level Deepavali Open House will only be celebrated on 4 November in Perak.