Culture

7 Things To Know About Deepavali & How The Festival Of Lights Is Celebrated In Singapore

Facts about Deepavali in Singapore


Deepavali is celebrated by over one billion people around the world and it’s also one of Singapore’s major holidays. But beyond all the brilliant lights and scrumptious Deepavali snacks is a plethora of traditions and legends dating back more than a thousand years to ancient India.

To brush you up on all you need to know about the festival, here are things to know about Deepavali and how the Indian Festival of Lights is celebrated in Singapore.


1. It is not the “Indian New Year”


Image credit: @stanley_chee via Instagram

This is a common misconception that many Singaporeans share but no, Deepavali is not when the Indian New Year starts (Tamils usually celebrate this around April 14 every year). The festival is a spiritual celebration of light trumping darkness, good beating evil, and knowledge prevailing over ignorance.

Its date is determined using the Indian Lunar Calendar, with Deepavali being the 15th day of Kartik, the holiest month of the year.

Deepavali is also traditionally celebrated across five days, with the main festivities honouring goddess Lakshmi held on the 3rd day—this is what we observe in Singapore. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean you’re getting additional holidays.


2. Not everybody calls the festival “Deepavali”


Image credit: Bhargava Marripati via Pexels

You might have heard some people refer to the festival as Diwali instead of Deepavali, and they aren’t wrong. Both words originate from the Sanskrit term “Dipavali” which translates to “row of lights”. They refer to the same festival, but each name is used by people from different regions of the subcontinent. 

But the reason why we hear “Deepavali” more in Singapore is that the majority of our early Indian immigrants were Tamils, hailing from South India. Diwali, on the other hand, is the Hindi term used more commonly by the North Indians.


3. Deepavali is not only celebrated by Hindus but also Sikhs & Jains


Guru Hargobind is celebrated by the Sikhs during Deepavali.
Image credit: SikhPa

The date that Deepavali falls on each year holds a special significance for not only Hindus, but also the Sikhs and Jains. But though they share the tradition of lamp-lighting, each religion has its own unique beliefs and practices. 

The Sikhs refer to the day as Bandi Chhor Divas, which roughly translates into “prisoner release day”. It’s a celebration of their 6th guru, Guru Hargobind, and his release from a Mughal prison. The Jains, on the other hand, commemorate Diwali as the date that Lord Mahavir attained nirvana and was liberated from the endless cycle of reincarnation.

No matter their differences, these 3 religions still come together every year to make the world just a little bit brighter.


4. The lights & lamps symbolise the sun


Image credit: Udayaditya Barua via Unsplash

Deepavali is synonymous with the multitude of oil lamps that are lit up at dusk. This is done for a couple of reasons, but the main one is that the light symbolises the sun and chases the darkness away. After all, Deepavali falls on a new moon every year which makes for the darkest night.

The mythological stories also give the lights a purpose beyond aesthetic decorations. According to legends, the city of Ayodhya lit up millions of lamps and lights to guide Lord Rama and Sita back home. 

Similarly, devotees of Lakshmi will leave lamps around their house to guide the goddess into their homes. Jains also use the lamps to symbolise the preservation of Lord Mahavir’s knowledge.


5. Singapore declared Deepavali a public holiday way back in 1929



Image credit: Malaya Tribune

Even though Singapore has been home to Indian immigrants since the early 1800s, it wasn’t until October 1929 that the colonial government of the time declared Deepavali an official holiday.


6. High Street was where the festivities were held before moving to Little India


Image credit: @stanley_chee via Instagram

Deepavali celebrations in the past were centred around High Street right behind the current Supreme Court. This was due to the street being a hotspot for Sindhi and Sikh jewellery and textile businesses.

These days, the dazzling display of lights has moved to Little India and Serangoon Road, with some festivities extending out to Chinatown as well as where the Sri Mariamman Temple is located.


7. A Singaporean once held the Guinness World Record for the largest Rangoli


Image credit: SingaRangoli

The beautiful art you see at entrances to Indian households is called rangoli (also known as “kolam). In 2003, Vijayalakshmi Mohan flew Singapore’s flag high when she broke the Guinness World Record for the largest rangoli drawn in the fastest time.

This feat was done at the Whampoa Community Club where Mohan drew a 2,756sqft (256sqm) rangoli in just 7 hours without any breaks. Rangolis are believed to lead the goddess of wealth and fortune Lakshmi into the households and act to ward against evil spirits, so we won’t be surprised if Mohan was blessed tenfold after her successful attempt.


Bonus: You can still celebrate & partake in Indian culture after Deepavali


Beyond the Deepavali Open House and annual light-up, the celebration of Indian culture doesn’t just stop after Deepavali comes and goes.

There is the annual Kalaa Utsavam Indian Festival of Arts put on by the Esplanade which celebrates both contemporary and traditional Indian arts. This year’s edition is also poised to feature events lasting from 17th-26th November 2023.

The Indian Heritage Centre (IHC) also has a permanent exhibition that showcases the intricate history shared between South and Southeast Asia over two millennia. From tracing the migration of Indians to Singapore in the 19th Century to their contributions towards the success of modern-day Singapore, Indians in Singapore – Past & Present is an eye-opener into the complexity of Indian culture in the region.


Things to know about celebrating Deepavali in Singapore


Now that you’ve read our explainer on some lesser-known Deepavali facts, we hope that you’ve gained a deeper appreciation and understanding of one of the most celebrated Indian festivals around the world.


Is Deepavali a public holiday in Singapore?


Yes, Deepavali is a public holiday in Singapore. On this day, most businesses and schools are closed.


How does Singapore celebrate Deepavali?


Temples, exhibitions, bazaars, and festivals are some of the popular activities that attract flocks of visitors during the celebration.


What to wear to a Deepavali celebration?


Opt for outfits that are comfy and conservative. If you’d like to feel extra festive, consider traditional Indian clothing. Men can go with a kurta and trousers, while women can put on a sari dress. If you need one in a cinch, there are a number of sari shops online that offer next-day delivery or have brick-and-mortar shops in Singapore.

Check out other articles on culture and traditions in Singapore:


Cover image adapted from: Bhargava Marripati & @stanley_chee via Instagram.
Originally published on 12th November 2020. Last updated by Samantha Nguyen on 12th November 2023. 

 

Josiah Neo

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