Happy Halloween! For all those who may be spooked by the ghost costumes and get-up tonight, holding out an oil lamp may make you feel safer. After all, this weekend marks Deepavali, a festival celebrated by Hindus, also known as the Festival of Lights.
Deepavali has many names, and I’m guessing it differs by the Indian dialects. It can also be known as Diwali or Divali. Even though in Singapore we only celebrate it as 1 day, it actually spans 5 days, sometime between mid-October to mid-November every year. It’s marked by families placing a trail of oil lamps to signify the triumph of good over evil, kinda like the Aladdin kind. It’s also a time when you get lots of sweets to mark the festive occasion. Did you know that on the first day of Deepavali, Indian businesses start their financial year? So it’s sorta like a New Year to them, in the commercial sense. And on the fifth day, sisters get to invite their brothers to their houses. Of course, we have to understand the context that in most cases, these sisters are married, and Indian women don’t get to go home and meet their family often. This occasion is like a family reunion, and the brothers also get to see how their sisters are doing in their new homes.
When I was a kid, the story of Deepavali told to me was something about the world being plunged into darkness, and the people lighting their oil lamps one by one to symbolise hope in the world. However, it seems the significance is not as simple as that. The spiritual meaning behind it is the awareness of the “inner light”, where the light of higher knowledge dispels ignorance of reality, and with it comes compassion and peace. It really marks enlightenment of the world. I won’t go into too much detail of Hindu thought and religious philosophy, but Hindus believe that the real world we live in is just a veil and the truth lies beyond. It can relate to Mage: The Awakening, in that true awakening results in seeing the real world behind the façade.
In Singapore, much of the action on Deepavali happens in Little India. I sometimes wonder how many countries in the world have a Little India. Is it much less than the number of countries with Chinatown? It’s cool to have a heritage site in a country, somewhat like a spot in a museum which preserves culture amidst all the modernisation going on around it. Have a festival going on? Head to so-and-so spot to seek your traditions again. Singapore used to have another holiday, Thaipusam, but it stopped being a public holiday. I wonder what was the decision-making behind that. Thaipusam seems to be a festival where men step on hot coals, and mortify their flesh by piercing their skin, tongue and cheeks with skewers. I suppose it was stopped because it was too scary, but apparently it tests the men’s endurance, especially since being pierced on the cheeks means they cannot speak. I would think speaking is the last thing I would think of when something sharp is poking through my skin, but I suppose one will miss the ability to cry out loud. Even though it sounds pretty abusive, I’m sure it’s fun for everyone when you don’t think so much of human rights. Then again, with globalisation on the forefront now, everything is pretty much judged by Western ethical standards. So this would be too painful for words while tattooing will be the in thing to do, even if they’re both equally painful.
It is quite interesting when certain festivals fall at roughly the same time. Happy Halloween and Deepavali!