Deepavali is celebrated by Hindus in Pahang, like the rest of Malaysia, during the dark moon period called Aippasi, in the Hindu month of Ashwayuja, usually between the months of October and November.
Deepavali actually means "arrangement or array of lights", from the word Deepa meaning "lights".
It is also a Festival of Lights, when "deeps" (oil lamps) are kept continuously lighted day and night to ward off evil and darkness.
According to the Hindus, lighting up the home during this Festival of Lights signifies the victory of light over darkness, good over evil, justice over injustice, and wisdom over ignorance.
To the Indians from southern India, Deepavali is the day Lord Krishna killed the evil Narakasura, who had tortured the populace to worship him. After days of fighting, Lord Krishna prevailed, and the people celebrated the victory with lights and lamps.
For the northern Indians, Deepavali is to celebrate the return of Sri Rama to his kingdom of Ayodhya after a long exile of 14 years after he killed the demon king Ravana, who had kidnapped his wife, Sita Dewi. It is said that people in their joy and happiness lighted oil lamps throughout the kingdom to show Rama the way home.
To the Indians living in Eastern India (Jains), Deepavali is celebrated as a sacred day for Dewi Kali or Dewi Lakshmi, the Goddess of Prosperity. It is celebrated by cleaning of the house, shops and other dwellings beforehand.
On this day there will prayers to receive the goodwill and blessings of the Goddess, with opening of windows and doors of their home to bring in happiness and prosperity.
Deepavali to the Jains, is the new year in their calendar.
There will also be special prayers to the souls and spirits of their departed ancestors.
To Sikhs and those from northern India, Deepavali is known as Diwali or Deevali. The day is celebrated the same day as Deepavali day of the Hindus.
For the Sikhs, Deevali is celebrated to commemorate Guru Gobind Singh Ji, who saved the Sikhs from the tortures of the British. The festival is celebrated not only with traditional foods, but also with prayers and group reading of the Sikh’s holy book.
Well, of course like all festivals, many days before the celebration, the family will do a sort of spring cleaning and beautify the whole house. New curtains and new furnitures will replace the old ones. New shirts and sarees (Indian dresses) and new shoes and sandals are bought, especially for the children.
A day before Deepavali, the kolam or rangoli is drawn in front of the house entrance, using rice flour or grains of rice. The rice grains painted in many colors are made into beautiful and colorful designs at the front of the house.
The kolam signifies the need to share wealth and do charity, as the rice grains will be eaten by ants and other small insects. The kolam or rangoli is also to welcome guests to the house.
Mango leaves (auspicious to Hindus) are hung at the main doorway. This represents a symbol that one should appreciate and love nature and God’s work.
Also on eve of Deepavali, the new and clean shirts and dresses to be worn on the Big Day are placed for blessing at the family altar.
On Deepavali day the whole family will wake up at the auspicious hour between 3 am to 5 am, to take the oil bath ritual known as ganga snanam. This oil bath ritual signals the start of the festival, and it signifies the cleaning away of the impurities of the past year.
Before taking the bath, the eldest member of the family ( normally the father or mother or a grandparent), will put a dash of gingelly oil on the head of the family members.
After the bath, they will wear the new or best shirts and dresses. Prayers are then held at the family altar and children prostrate on all fours at the feet of elders to seek their blessings.
After this the family will go to the nearest or their favorite temple to offer prayers.
Back home after prayers at the temple, the family will settle for a good traditional meal.
And they will later exchange cakes with their Hindu neighbors and will send a little of their cakes, food and fruits they have at home to other neighbors, relatives and friends.
And in the unique Malaysian tradition, the Indian families will open their homes for friends to visit and savor the goodies. Malays, Chinese and other races can be seen joyfully visiting homes of their Indian friends.
Ever wonder why some Hindus use three stripes of their sacred ash on their forehead?
Well, it expresses purity, detachment from the world, and the giving up of the ego.
END OF SIDE-NOTE
Of course, festivals are not complete without delightful, sumptuous food and delicacies.
And in Pahang, the whole array of southern and northern Indian food and cookies are available.
Indian cookies like murukku, vadai, ommapadi, chippi, atharasum, nei orundei and delicious Indian curries and breads are served to guests and relatives.
Sweets, savories and desserts like jelebi, gulab jamun, ladu, palkova and kesari will be also served.
The food and meals for Deepavali consist of the traditional must-haves, like murukku and vadai, and dishes like chicken tandoori, lamb massala, aloo gobi and gobi pakoras, to whet the appetite.
Usually mutton and chicken rice dishes, like chicken briyani are the usual favorites. Seafood, like prawns and squids are also available hot and sweet Indian-cooked style.
Vegetarians are not left out and for them there are special dishes, no less delicious or tasty, prepared.
Well, Deepavali, the festival of lights, is celebrated in Pahang and Malaysia not only by the Indians, but by all races.
Malaysians know that good will always prevail over evil, justice over injustice, wisdom over ignorance, and light over darkness – the essence of Deepavali.
And unity and goodwill of Malaysians over-ride everything else, making festivals and celebrations really what they are, and more.
As always, from me ...