IGNITE Guide: What is Deepavali / Diwali?

Happy Deepavali! ..Not sure what that is? Read on, for our guide to this amazing festival!

Deepavali “The festival of lights” not only illuminates homes, but also hearts, by bringing family and friends together under one roof to enjoy each other’s warmth and love.  

The word Deepavali, refers to a celebration across the world for Indians, and it literally translates to ‘row of lamps.’ The traditional lamps, made out of clay and filled with oil, signify the extinguishing of evil and the birth of good. The roots of this celebration of course go back to India, but the reasons for celebrating the festival of lights vary regionally.

Some say that this auspicious day is to celebrate the marriage of Lord Vishnu and Lakshmi. Hindus bestow this day to Lord Ganesh, the symbol of wisdom and auspiciousness. Some Hindus prefer devoting this day to their respective deva (their cherished choice of God). The Bengalis however, celebrate it in respect to Goddess Kali, the goddess of strength.

One very common reason that brings every Indian together on this day is to celebrate the return of Lord Rama and Sitha Devi, along with his brother Lakshman, back to their beautiful capital Ayodhya, after 14 years of exile. The return was vastly celebrated because of the defeat of demon king Ravana, and the oil lamps were lit to signify a birth of a new life, a life without evil. The firecrackers which are lit and burst into the skies also have their own significance; the fumes from the firecrackers were said to kill insect pests that may be found around the home. In a way, this was all cleansing. A rebirth of life.

The story of Lord Rama defeating the demon king Ravan is engraved beautifully by the words of the epic Hindu tale, Ramayana. People with Indian heritage would have heard this tale at least once during their childhood. Scripted by the great Sage Valmiki, the original text was initially in Sanskrit and consists of 24,000 verses in seven books. It was later simplified and translated into languages like English, Tamil and Hindi to reach a wider audience.

On the surface, Ramayana simply narrates the life of Lord Rama, whose wife Sitha was abducted by the demon king Ravan, and his fight for justice to redeem his wife and end the Ravan’s cruelty towards the locals. But, if read at a deeper level, this tale has a beautiful explanation of the concept of Dharma, the humanly world, and how attachment to this world on the base of greed can condemn a man. This scripture, if understood well, can lead a man to live a righteous life.

Deepavali in Malaysia is exceptionally lively. With open houses, and lots and lots of food, it is something that you would not want to miss! Indian food like thosai, idli, mutton curry and briyani flood the tables of every Indian house you may happen to walk into. The famous “biscuit”, the muruku, is a must-try during Deepavali.

Deepavali is a time for families to reunite, for traditions to come alive, and for communities to come together as one. A typical day for a person celebrating Deepavali begins with waking up and having an oil bath. The purpose of the oil bath is to cleanse one’s self, but the oil also acts as an agent to calm the body and reduce body heat. Later, the elders will lead prayers for their ancestors, usually by offering a vegetarian meal along with fruits. On this day too, after completing prayers at home, most Indians would visit a temple.

From then on, it is simply about being with family and friends, rejoicing every moment possible, and sharing scrumptious meals with good company. At night, cousins, mostly children, get together excitedly to light crackers under the watchful eyes of their parents.

It is almost a sin to miss a Deepavali “open house,” simply because the celebrations are that good! Families are typically very welcoming, so if you do get invited to an open house, DO NOT MISS IT! Go and have fun, eat all you can, and live the experience, because our festival of lights is like no other festival out there.

Happy Deepavali, UNMC!

Vithiya Whyte

"Zeal without knowledge is fire without light." - Thomas Fuller, 17th century historian

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