On November 13, Southeast Asia's large Hindu community celebrates Deepavali (also known to the rest of the world as Diwali) to commemorate the victory of good over evil. On this day, tradition holds, Lord Krishna finally conquered the oppressive Narakasura after a long battle.
Hindus mark Deepavali as the start of the Indian New Year, and like New Year celebrations of the region's other religions, Hindus celebrate the season by holding family reunions, throwing "open-house" parties, holding open-air markets, and settling debts.
A Family Celebration
At dawn, each Hindu family rises before dawn for a ritual oil bath before dressing in their best clothes and visiting the temple before visiting friends and relatives.
Homes are decorated with floor art (kolam), tinsel, and mango leaves; the goddess Lakshmi will not favor a home without kolam. Children light sparklers, and rows of oil lamps are placed in the home to bring the light of goodness into the household.
The markets are the best place for visitors to get into the Deepavali mood. The Singapore ethnic enclave of Little India district becomes a single brightly-lit street market, selling flower garlands, spices, fine clothing, and traditional dishes. If you're unfamiliar with Indian food, this is the best time and place to give it a try!
Deepavali in Singapore
In Singapore, Deepavali is gazetted by the Government as a one-day public holiday, and celebrated with joy by the entire Hindu community.
The Hindu Endowment Board of Singapore organizes each year's Deepavali festivities; Little India glows with arches of brilliant lights, and Serangoon Road comes alive with bazaars and cultural performances throughout October.
The "light-up" of Serangoon Road is beautiful to see, particularly the stretch between Sungei Road and Lavender Street.
The shopping in Little India is good all year round, but it reaches a peak during Deepavali. Little India's Campbell Lane is organized into a street bazaar selling Indian sundries, from spices to saris. Indian food is available everywhere - this is the day for traditional Indian dishes, including treats like thosai (rice flour pancakes), and iddiyappam (rice flour hoppers), and savory dishes like murukku (crisp savory fried-batter snack) and vadai (lentil cake).
The best way to get into the Deepavali spirit: have your hand henna-painted with traditional artwork at the Campbell Lane bazaar.
The Deepavali Street Parade is the most anticipated Deepavali public event in Singapore, with dozens of street artists and dancers transforming Little India into one big party!
Singapore's temples are decorated with flowers, kolam, and offerings of food from devotees. The holiday's emphasis on prosperity is embodied in the holiday's welcoming of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, who visits homes and temples on this day.
Deepavali is the best time of the year to visit the Serangoon Road temples of Sri Veerama Kaliamman, Sri Vadapathira Kaliamman, and Sri Srinivasa Perumal, as worshipers decorate these places with jasmine garlands and brilliant lighted arches. Start with the Sri Veerama Kaliamman Temple, as it's the most convenient to visit (at the corner of Serangoon Road and Belilios Road).
Getting There: To get to Serangoon Road for Deepavali, take the MRT on the North-East (NE) or the East-West (EW) line, getting off at Little India (NE7) or Farrer Park station (NE8), mere walking distance from Little India.
Where to Stay: if you’re coming to Singapore to celebrate Deepavali, do try to stay close to the action, in one of the many hotels in Little India. If you’re on a budget, you can take advantage of the budget hotels in Little India, or use Singapore’s streamlined transportation system to stay in a Singapore budget hotel further afield.