Deepavali FAQ: Everything You Need To Know About The Festival Of Lights

Some of Deepavali’s hardest questions, answered.

  • Tuesday, 17 October 2017
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Deepavali FAQ: Everything You Need To Know About The Festival Of Lights
It’s that time of the year again, where we gear ourselves up for all the muruku one can eat, and look forward to open houses to taste fantastic home cooked Indian food!

Deepavali is here, yay!.

To kick start the celebration, we at Rojak Daily are answering some FAQs on the festival of lights. 

What is Deepavali? The short version, please!

Good vs. evil
It’s the classic good overcomes evil, that’s what Deepavali is! There are many versions of how this happened, but here are two of the most common stories behind it:

Rama VS Ravana

This is the story of the eternal good guy, Lord Rama, defeating one of the most terrifying villains in Hindu mythology, Ravana. This is from the popular epic, the Ramayana. Ravana kidnapped Sita, Rama’s wife, while the couple was living in exile in a forest. He took her with him to his kingdom, Lanka. Rama and his loyal devotee, Hanuman, go in pursuit of Ravana and Sita.

Rama vs Ravana
They managed to save the damsel in distress, kill Ravana, and burn Lanka to the ground. The killing of Ravana is accompanied by the fire that is ravaging his kingdom. Rama, Sita and Hanuman are welcomed back by the villagers with rows of oil lamps, and the death of Ravana is celebrated with fireworks. This is meant to represent light over darkness and the belief that good will always triumph over evil. 

Krishna VS Narakasura

Bad boy Narkasura was believed to be a demon of filth, covered in dirt. He wasn’t a totally bad guy; he had done some good deeds, but he had an unforgivable folly. He used to kidnap beautiful young women and force them to live with him. People approached Lord Krishna for help, and after a mighty battle, he finally annihilated the demon. Krishna granted Narakasura one last wish before he died, because of the good deeds he had performed in the past. His only wish was that everyone should celebrate his death with colourful light. Krishna granted his request and the women held captive were freed, and the world was free of the demon Narakasura.

For all the good deeds.After his victory Krishna returned very early in the morning and was bathed and massaged with scented oils. Taking an early morning bath with oil is still a Deepavali tradition for some Hindus to this day. This story is a reminder that good always defeats evil. In some parts of the world, the day before Deepavali is celebrated as Naraka Chaturdashi – the day Narakasura (a.k.a. evil) died. 

These are just a few of the many versions and stories behind the celebration of Deepavali. The folklore varies throughout the world. However, in all interpretations, one common thread rings true—the festival marks the victory of good over evil.

Is that why homes have oil lamps and we keep hearing crackers through the night?

This represents the joy.
The lighting of oil lamps and bursting of firecrackers signify illumination, not only externally but internally. According to one belief, the sound of firecrackers indicates the joy of the people living on earth, making the gods aware of their plentiful state. Another possible reason has a more scientific basis: the fumes produced by the firecrackers kill many insects and mosquitoes, which are plentiful after the rains. These days, those who celebrate burst firecrackers for a whole different reason - it’s a whole lot of fun!

Why does the day Deepavali falls on change every year?

Just like the Chinese Lunar Calendar, there is an Indian lunisolar calendar as well. Deepavali falls during the month of Kartika. The exact date is determined by the visibility of the moon. Deepavali usually falls on the day before the new moon, also known as Amavasya. Hence, the date of Deepavali varies in the Gregorian calendar, usually falling between the 16th of October and the 15th of November every year.

What is the coloured rice formation that all malls seem to have when it nears Deepavali day?

Used to remove negativity.
Rangoli or kolam, as they are popularly referred to, is an art usually portrayed on the living room floor, or at the courtyards of Indian households. What we see in malls today is made of coloured rice, but some people also make these with coloured sand or dry flour, and even flower petals! The traditional kolam used natural coloured powders such as vermillion and turmeric. With the advent of artificial colouring, the colours of the kolam are a kaleidoscope of hues. As it is placed at the point of entry into a house of event space, the colours and beauty of the kolam aims to remove the negativity in the guest’s head, and replace it with positive vibes. It’s no wonder that they say the kolam is the positive epicentre of the home!

Is Deepavali celebrated only by Hindus?

Not only the Hindus celebrate Deepavali.
Nope! In addition to Hindus, Deepavali is celebrated by Sikhs, Jains, and some Buddhists. 

For the Jains, Deepavali is celebrated as the day Lord Mahavira attained Nirvana, or freedom from the reincarnation cycle. It is said that the earth and the heavens were illuminated with lamps to mark the occasion of Lord Mahavir’s enlightenment. Every year, practicing Jains light oil lamps on Deepavali to denote light of Lord Mahavir’s enlightenment.

Sweets and goodies are distributed in celebration of Lord Mahavir. Many Jains also celebrate Deepavali by fasting and singing hymns to as a tribute to Lord Mahavir, while others participate in social work on that day. The Jain New Year is celebrated on the day after Deepavali.

Different celebrations.
Sikhs celebrate Deepavali for a totally different reason. Bandi Chhor Diwas, or Prisoner Release Day, is celebrated on Deepavali day. The sixth Guru, Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji, was freed from imprisonment and arrived home to his followers on this day in 1619. The Sikh tradition holds that the Emperor Jahangir had held Guru Hargobind and 52 princes captive in prison.

The Emperor was then asked to release Guru Hargobind, which he reluctantly consented to. However, Guru Hargobind asked that the princes be released too. The Emperor agreed, but said only those who could hold onto his cloak tail would be allowed to leave the prison. This was in order to limit the number of prisoners who could leave. Guru Hargobind outsmarted the Emperor, and had a cloak made with 52 pieces of string and so each prince was able to hold onto one string.

They all left the prison, much to the joy of their followers. When the Guru reached the holy city of Amritsar, the people lit the city up in lights and candles, similar to Deepavali. To commemorate this, on Deepavali day, Sikhs go to the Gurdwara and remember their Guru through prayer and meditation. Sikhs usually light oil lamps and set off fireworks, as was done at the time to light the path for Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji’s return home. 

Even buddhists celebrate too.
Newar Buddhists around the world celebrate Deepavali too. Newar Buddhists are the indigenous people of Kathmandu Valley and surrounding areas of Nepal belong to Indo-Aryan and Tibeto-Burman ethnicities. For them, Deepavali signifies the day when Emperor Ashoka gave up everything and adopted the path of peace after going through a lot of bloodshed and death.

Mini history lesson: Emperor Ashoka was an Indian emperor of the Maurya Dynasty, who ruled almost all of the Indian subcontinent from c. 268 to 232 BC. Ashoka decided to convert to Buddhism around 265 BC. The day is now known as Ashok Vijaydashami. It is a day when Newar Buddhists everywhere will chant mantras to remember Lord Buddha, and also the Emperor.

Emperor Ashoka started studying and practicing the teachings of Lord Buddha, and in doing so, he became instrumental in spreading the religion throughout the Indian subcontinent, and subsequently beyond. Using the resources of his kingdom, he placed edicts throughout his kingdom carrying inscriptions about Buddhism. 

Why are some homes vegetarian on Deepavali day while others aren’t?

The diet is strictly up to the individuals.
Being a religious holiday, some homes decide to adopt a vegetarian diet on Deepavali day. While others feel it is a time for celebration and epicurean enjoyment, with no holds barred. There is no hard and fast rule in Hinduism, that this day requires a strict vegetarian diet. Hence, to each, his own.

Whichever the choice is, it is best for guests to respect the customs practiced and partake in the meal prepared, relishing the breadth of flavour of the food in front of them. Also, one common factor throughout both vegetarian and non-vegetarian homes are the snacks and sweetmeats.

ALSO READ: Deepavali Special: Getting To Know Your Indian Sweets

Savoury munchies like muruku, seeval, omapodi and ribbon pakora are the perfect accompaniment to the late night Deepavali chatter. Meanwhile, sweets like coconut candy, palkova, jilebi and various others see us with the incorrigible sweet tooth go crazy throughout the day.

In Malaysia, like every other festival, Deepavali has become an event for family and friends to catch up, celebrate, dine and enjoy themselves all through the day, and into the weekend.

We at Rojak Daily would like to wish all our readers a Happy Deepavali, and enjoy all of that muruku! 

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