Just when you thought Little India couldn’t get any more colourful or chaotic, the biggest festival on the Hindu calendar pulls into town. This year Deepavali falls on October 26 but, like Christmas, half the fun is the weeks leading up to the big day. If you’re in Singapore this month you must come down to Little India to shop at the festive markets and see the Deepavali decorations lit up at night.
The origins of the Deepavali Festival come from an epic Hindu legend called the Ramayana. In the story it took Lord Rama 14 years to vanquish the demon Ravana, and on his triumphant return people celebrated by lighting traditional oil lamps called diyas and setting off firecrackers. Now, every year Indian communities around the world symbolise the triumph of good over evil by illuminating their homes with Deepavali lanterns and oil lamps. Thanks to these decorations Deepavali is also known as “The Festival of Lights”.
Serangoon Road, the busy thoroughfare that runs through Little India, is the hotspot for Deepavali decorations in Singapore and giant “Happy Deepavali” signs stretch over the road. The bright signs with lucky peacocks and oil lamps are pretty during the day but even more spectacular at night when they’re illuminated. The Deepavali Street Light-Up happens at 19:00 every night from now until November 7, 2011.
Of course, there’s more to Deepavali than just decorations – there’s Indian food! In addition to Little India’s usual offering of amazing eats, Campbell Lane is closed off to traffic to create the Deepavali Festival Market where you can buy special holiday treats like barfi (milk-based sweets) and spiced crackers. Many refrain from eating meat during the Deepavali period and you’’ll find plenty of simple restaurants serving delicious South Indian food like vadai, masala dosai and vegetable biriyani for a few dollars.
Other offerings at the Deepavali Festival Bazaar include handicrafts, flower garlands, beauty products, and traditional clothing. Buying a new outfit is a Deepavali tradition and in Little India this usually means a bejewelled sari or shalwar kameez — don’t forget the bangles! At the bazaar you can also experience the traditional Indian art of henna – sort of like a temporary tattoo – and prices range from S$5 for a small design to S$30 to get painted with the swirling patterns from fingertips to elbow.
The peak of the festivities is Deepavali Eve (October 25) when Race Course Road becomes an open-air stadium for the Deepavali Countdown plus traditional music and dance performances. There will also be special pooja (prayers) at Hindu temples like the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple.
Keep an eye on the official Little India website for a event timings.
By Tanya Procyshyn
Last updated on 15th November, 2014.