Time-honoured traditions brought over by our Indian forefathers continue to evolve and localise with each passing generation. Here’s an introduction to how Singapore’s small size and melting pot of cultures make Deepavali here quite a unique experience – and these five ways are by no means exhaustive!
1. Singaporeans of all walks celebrate together!
Although Indians make up about just 10% of Singapore’s population, Deepavali here is celebrated all across the island. With our multicultural housing as well as temples and markets in practically every district, it’s common to see non-Indian friends visiting Indian families to join in the celebrations.
If you’ve been invited to celebrate Deepavali at a friend’s house, do take the chance to fully immerse yourself in the experience! Pick out a new ethnic-inspired outfit (we’ve got some tips here), brush up on your knowledge of the festival here, and get ready to enjoy the warm hospitality and sumptuous food of your hosts. Private firework displays aren’t allowed here, but you’ll see many children (and some adults too) having fun with sparklers!
2. We have a national holiday and a street lightup
Here in Singapore, Deepavali is a gazetted national holiday – another reflection of the multiracial and religious fabric of our nation. Unlike in India, where official celebrations last 5 days, Deepavali here is officially a 1-day affair in October or November, although the festivities typically stretch across the two months.
At the start of October, the Little India district, where the Deepavali action is most concentrated, comes aglow with an annual street light-up and a countdown show on national TV. The street light up is always a hit with families, with some parents considering it a yearly must-see with their kids. A festival village with bazaar stalls plying everything from household decorations, sweet treats, and henna is also a much-anticipated fixture.
3. Many Hindus head down to Chinatown on Deepavali itself
Did you know that on Deepavali itself, many Hindus actually head down to Chinatown? That’s because the Sri Mariamman Temple, the largest Hindu temple in Singapore, is located right in the heart of Chinatown! It sits on the same street as a mosque, church, and Buddhist temple – a visual testament to our multicultural makeup and religious harmony.
The sight of Hindu families flocking to the Sri Mariamman Temple in Chinatown for their morning prayers is one of the ways that the Festival of Lights in Singapore is unlike anywhere else.
4. Our most popular market for Deepavali shopping actually bears a Hokkien name
Tekka Market in Little India is known as the one-stop shopping market for spices, produce, and even new clothes for Deepavali. Surprisingly, its current name isn’t Tamil or Hindi, but is actually from the Chinese Hokkien dialect, where “Tekka” means “the foot of the bamboo”. This was probably due to the abundance of wild bamboo growing around the market in the past.
The market had a different name when it was first built in 1915. Back then, it was known as the Kadang Kerbau Market, a Malay name that drew from the cattle trade in the surrounding area. Many of the stallholders at Tekka Market today are second or third generation hawkers who inherited the shops that their forefathers set up in the market 30 to 50 years ago.
5. It’s complemented by an annual Indian festival of arts
Coinciding with Deepavali festivities each year is Kalaa Utsavam, an Indian festival of arts that all Singaporeans can enjoy. Presented by the Esplanade, Kalaa Utsavam is positioned as a cultural festival that celebrates traditional and contemporary Indian arts, performed by artists from Singapore and all over the world.
While Deepavali shows around the world are a fantastic showcase of Indian art forms, they are mainly still enjoyed by the religious Indian community. Having an annual festival of arts takes these art forms to all Singaporeans and raises the profile of Indian performing arts as a whole, making it a perfect complement to Deepavali here. Find out more about the 2020 edition of Kalaa Utsavam here.
You can catch a glimpse of our Singapore-styled celebrations in this year’s Mega Deepavali Online Show, broadcast across various TV networks globally and on digital platforms (more on that here). However, if you’re lucky enough to reside in Singapore, the best way to see this is to experience it yourself through Little India and our local Indian community!
Remember to observe social distancing and health safety measures for an enjoyable, worry-free celebration.