Deepavali in Penang

Each year, according to the lunar calendar, Deepavali will fall between late October and early November. This year, this Hindu new year falls on 10 November and it is a vital festival for Hindus where they celebrate good prevailing over evil, light over darkness. Meaning ‘row of lights’ Deepavali or Diwali sees many lamps being lit in homes and temples deeming it as the festival of lights.

Rituals of Deepavali
As it marks the beginning of a new year for Hindu believers, this is when houses are cleaned or renovated, new clothes are bought and donned, lamps are lit in homes while puja or prayers are offered to Lakshmi the Goddess of wealth, light, prosperity and wisdom, as well as Ganesha, the remover of obstacles and Lord of beginnings.
In fact, preparations for this festival happen within five days of the actual day and this includes shopping for gifts, clothing, food and home necessities. In some parts of the world such as India and Malaysia, Deepavali is looked upon as a busy shopping period, a lucrative time for retailers. Once the religious rituals are completed and satisfied, a feast is spread out for family and friends and for some, a gift exchange takes place among members of family and their close friends.

Combining both religious and festive vibes, Deepavali’s a robust, joyful and colourful festival. This is reflected in the many types of savoury and sweet food served during the family feast, ghee lamps that are lit and normally placed on floors and doorways of homes as well as temples, prettily decorated doorways with kolam and hung garlands made of leaves and marigolds, and explosions of firecrackers along with handheld sparklers.

Where to Soak in the Festive Ambience in Penang
The most obvious place is, of course, at Penang’s Little India. Its cacophony of Tamil pop songs and chants piped through sound system mingle harmoniously with conversations between traders, shoppers and passers-by. More than that, as early as three weeks before the actual festival date, tents are put up outside most stores in this Indian enclave selling kitchenware, costume jewellery to go with the thousands of sari choices available and all sorts of food such as cookies, deep-fried savoury snacks and more. One way to locate this area is via sound while the other is simply follow your nose – the fragrant scent of burning incense sticks and frying food will lead you there too.

A more religious but no less festive ambience can be had along Jalan Kebun Bunga where three Hindu temples sit close to each other, leading up to the beautiful temple on the hill and Penang’s Botanic Gardens. Here, at these temples, morning prayers or puja led by the temples’ priests commence amidst a riot of colours stemming from sari-clad womenfolk, intricately drawn kolam and garlands of flowers.