Deepavali, which literally means “row of lights,” is celebrated by Hindus across the world and is the most important festival in Hinduism. In Singapore, the Festival of Lights, as it’s endearingly called, falls in the last quarter of the year and is a public holiday.
Deepavali is the celebration of good over evil, and light overcoming darkness. While there are various legends that inspire this festival, the common tale is about how Narakasura won the favor of God and was blessed with the rule of a kingdom. He ruled his kingdom with tyranny, which led his subjects to appeal to Lord Sri Krishna, the divine ruler of Madura, for help. Narakasura was subsequently killed by Lord Krishna in battle and on Lord Krishna’s return, the city was in complete darkness as it was the night of a new moon. To celebrate his victory and to welcome Lord Krishna, the people lit lamps, and to this day, Hindus mark the victory of Lord Krishna over King Narakasura by lighting oil lamps.
New clothes are worn during Deepavali and sweets and snacks are shared. Some Indian communities also begin the financial year on Deepavali for auspicious reasons. A traditional way to celebrate Deepavali in Singapore is to have your hands painted with henna art. Henna is a flowering plant used to dye skin, hair, fingernails and even leather and wool. These temporary tattoos are often done for free by local artists.
During Deepavali, the streets of Little India are artfully decorated and lit up in bright festive colours, transforming it with an explosion of vibrant, colourful arches and lights. Festive bazaars and numerous cultural activities such as the Indian Heritage and Craft Exhibition, Street Parade, Countdown Concert are also held. The festive stalls are decorated with wares such as fragrant flowers, garlands used during prayers, traditional oil lamps and beautiful Saris with intricate brocade patterns and glittering gems. Colourful Indian outfits, intricate costume jewellery and traditional arts and craft are also on sale. Indian delicacies can also be found in abundance during this period.
If you want to bask in the richness of the Indian culture, sit by any of the coffee shops along Little India and order a teh tarik (frothy milk tea). Watch as the crowds fill the streets and the stalls bustle with business. Come see this historically rich enclave transform into the heart of Deepavali.