Deepavali, or Diwali, is a five-day Hindu festival that begins on the shortest day of the year during the period between mid-October and mid-November. Deepavali celebrates light overcoming darkness and is also known as the Festival of Lights. This festival is a one-day public holiday in Singapore and is the most important celebration of the Hindu year.
The most common legend about Deepavali is that Lord Krishna defeated Narakasura in a battle. When Lord Krishna returned to Madura, it was a new moon and the city was in darkness. The people lit oil lamps to welcome him home and celebrate the victory.
Today, Hindus pray to the Goddess Lakshmi, the goddess of light and prosperity, and celebrate by wearing colourful clothes and decorating their bodies, particularly their hands and arms, with henna tattoos.
Many areas of Singapore are decorated for Deepavali but Little India especially becomes more alive and alight than ever, particularly in Serangoon Road. With nearly 10% of Singaporeans being of Indian descent, there can be around 400,000 celebrating this festival and the streets become decorated with colourful arches, lights and many bazaars.
In the bazaars, the stalls are decorated with fragrant flowers, garlands, oil lamps and beautiful saris with gems and delicate patterns.
Before Deepavali, homes are cleaned throughout and decorated inside and out with clay lamps called diyas, flowers, beautiful fabrics and colourful powders making designs called rangolis in and around the houses.
During the festival, prayers are offered in thanks and to request future blessings. Homes and streets become happy and colourful and full of the aromas of foods like Gajar Halwa made with carrots and milk, Dahi-bhalle – fried lentil balls served with yoghurt and chutneys – and desserts like Gulab Jamun made with cinnamon and cardamom, and Besan Ke Ladoo, which are dessert balls made from besan, ghee, sugar and nuts.