Understanding Deepavali


SEEING that Hindus the world over are celebrating Deepavali or Diwali this weekend, the Eye thought it would be good to shed some light on the celebration of lights. Because it is has not been declared a public holiday in Sarawak, the awareness towards the celebration is low. Sad but true, as they say, out of sight, out of mind.Anyway the Eye started asking around, to see how much we know about the celebration. Many described Deepavali as the festival of lights, but could not explain beyond that. Some said “something about good over evil” while others had the impression that it was the Indian New Year (well, for the benefit of non-Indian readers, Deepavali is NOT the Indian New Year!). Many of those whom the Eye approached did not even have a single Indian or Hindu friend!

The Eye then hunted down a friend of Indian ethnicity for some enlightenment on Deepavali. She explained that in India, it wasn’t just the Hindus who celebrated Deepavali. Diwali, as she says it, also has some significance to the Jains and the Buddhists.

While many celebrate it to signify the return of King Rama to Ayodhya and the killing of Ravana who had cast darkness over the land, the often forgotten significance of Diwali is the celebration of enlightenment or awakening of inner light within one self. This, the Eye’s friend explained, referred to overcoming ignorance (darkness) to uphold knowledge and the meaning of life.

She added that Diwali also coincides with the end of the harvest season in India, and thus, it is somewhat significant as to what Gawai is to us here. She mentioned that it was, in some way or another, also significant to Sikhism, but admitted that she did not know that bit to be able to elaborate more.

She explained that the true history of Diwali was hard to explain as there are many variations to the story which differs from region to region throughout the India and the world. However, she stressed that the true essence of Diwali is the prevalence of light (good or knowledge) over darkness (evil or ignorance).

How we celebrate Diwali here in Malaysia is pretty much similar to how it is celebrated throughout India and the rest of the world — with homes decorated with lights and flowers; prayers being held, and the serving of Indian sweets, curries and snacks. Malaysians have added another unique touch to the celebration — the open house concept where friends and families visit one another during the auspicious occasion.

Many living in Sarawak have yet to experience a Diwali open house. And, in recent years, many have called for Diwali to be declared a public holiday here. In the spirit of One Malaysia, these calls were made by those who do not even celebrate Diwali! The Eye hopes that these calls were sincere and not made for the sake having yet another public holiday.

As for those who are celebrating Diwali in Sarawak, the Eye wishes you Happy Diwali and do save some of those Indian sweets for the Eye!