Oct 18 2011

The Hindu festival of Deepavali (Diwali) in Kuala Lumpur

Published by at 3:59 am under Festivals


Well over a thousand years before Islam first came to what is now Malaysia, Hinduism was a well established belief system in the peninsula. Even more than Buddhism, that other great Indian religious export, Hinduism influenced all aspects of life, from marriage ceremonies to concepts of divine kingship.

New paint, very old religion.

New paint, very old religion.

The founding of the Malacca Sultanate at the turn of the 15th century began the long process of Islam becoming the dominant religion in Peninsular Malaysia. But even the growth of Islamic fundamentalism over recent decades has failed to remove completely the influence of Hinduism over the Malay way of life.

Mumbai? Delhi? No, Brickfields.

Mumbai? Delhi? No, Brickfields.

The second great wave of Indian influence started in the early 19th century, with the arrival of thousands of immigrants from the Indian Subcontinent. These days about 7% of Malaysians are ethnically Indian. Some of them are Christians, others are Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains, but the vast majority are Hindus.

The festival of lights

The festival of lights.

For Hindus, the most important religious event of the year is Diwali, the “festival of lights”. Known as Deepavali in Malaysia and Singapore, the five-day festival celebrates the victory of good over evil, and light over darkness. The third day of Deepavali, which this year falls on October 26, marks the official start of the Hindu New Year. The festival is also celebrated by Jains and Sikhs.

So many stories to tell, so little space.

So many stories to tell, so little space.

Of all the world’s major religions, Hinduism tends to have some of the most exuberant and colourful festivals. So it should come as no surprise that anyone whose visit to Kuala Lumpur coincides with Deepavali stands to experience a feast for the senses.

Understated, Deepavali is not.

Understated, Deepavali is not.

Although many of the practices associated with Deepavali, such as house cleaning and special family meals, are centred on the home, many of the ceremonies are public, such as processions and firework displays. Probably the most visible sign of the festival, particularly in Little India and Brickfields (the two areas most associated with the KL’s Indian community), is special street bazaars.

Does my wallet look small in this festival?

Does my wallet look small in this festival?

Buying new clothes is an important part of marking Deepavali, as it is with Chinese New Year, and the Muslim festival of Hari Raya. Not that most Malaysians, whatever their race or religion, need an excuse to go shopping.

It's crunchy snack time.

It's crunchy snack time.

It should not come as a surprise that Indian food also plays a big part in this festival, with savoury snacks known as murukku particularly popular. If you are lucky enough to be invited to a Deepavali “open house” party, best to starve yourself beforehand, and wear loose clothing.

Which just goes to prove how versatile rice is

Which just goes to prove how versatile rice is.

Apart from visiting the bazaars or major Hindu temples, such as Sri Mahamariamman in Chinatown, and Sri Kandaswamy Kovil in Brickfields, it is also possible to get a taste of Deepavali at Pavilion shopping centre. As well as a huge piece of artwork made out of coloured rice, known as a kolam, and henna tattoo displays, free classical Indian dance performances will take place at 17:00 on October 22, 23 and 26.

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One Response to “The Hindu festival of Deepavali (Diwali) in Kuala Lumpur” ...

  1. Tomon 12 Nov 2012 at 4:59 am

    An engaging article title but what about specific and actionable information? This site is ranked highly by Google – anything I search and this tends to come up, but it’s highly frustrating when empty articles come up and I’m silly enough to have read it twice wondering if I missed something.

    What would be nice is some relevant and interestingly composed photography with actual information about what happens in KL on Diwali – specific insights. Anyone spending 1 minute in KL could find out where Indians are concentrated, not sure they’d be very interested in Pavilion shopping centre though. Epic. Did you go to KL for a day or something (seemingly so)? You are recommending Pavilion shopping centre for Diwali!!!! Crazy and misguiding.

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