Deepavali celebrations: Similarities and differences between Malaysia and India

Deepavali is a Hindu festival, celebrated because it’s the day that Lord Krishna defeated the demon Narakasura.

The word ‘Deepavali’ directly translates to ‘row of lights’, and on this day, the villagers light lamps to show a path for Lord Krishna to come back to his home, hence the ‘Festival of Lights’. Although Deepavali comes from India, it’s also one of the most celebrated festivals in Malaysia. However, there are many differences in how it is celebrated in both countries.

In India, this festival is called Deepavali and Diwali. Diwali is commonly used in north India; it is the anglicised word for “Deepavali”. Diwali is usually used to refer to the traditions done in the north of India and occasionally the West, while Deepavali refers to traditions in the south of India and Southeast Asian countries, including Malaysia. Deepavali comes from the translation from Sanskrit, and Diwali is a simplistic version of that, meant to be easier to pronounce.

In Malaysia, it’s less common to visit temples during Deepavali. Usually, this time is used to celebrate with friends and family. Most people prefer to pray in their homes rather than in a temple. This is partially because, in Malaysia, the festival is generally celebrated for one or two days, so it’s more convenient. Another reason is the way Deepavali is celebrated in Malaysia with traditions that have evolved over time and can be different to other parts of the world. In India, the festival lasts for five days, with each day dedicated to a different aspect. For instance, there’s a day for cleaning, a day for praying, etc. This gives devotees more time to really observe Deepavali. There is also a sense of community, which allows people to interact with others and creates an atmosphere of belonging.

The food eaten during Deepavali is influenced by a country’s culture and history. The food in India is quite varied, depending on the region, such as the differences between northern India and southern India. In the north, dishes like samosas and pakoras are more common, while in the south, foods that are sweet and savoury, like murukku and Mysore pak, are more common. A lot of the main courses are foods like briyani and paneer dishes of different types of bread (roti and naan). In Malaysia, the dishes are influenced by our local cultures, resulting in a more Malaysian cuisine. For sweets and savoury foods, alongside Indian dishes (like murukku), there might be a few Malaysian desserts being served. You may even find chicken rendang on the table for the main meal.

Deepavali in India is celebrated as a national holiday. It almost always involves lighting diya lamps, cleaning up your house, performing prayers, and exchanging gifts and big meals. It includes the wearing of traditional clothes, like sari, kurta, and lungi, and homes will be decorated with designs of kolam at the entrance to welcome prosperity and good fortune.

In Malaysia, the holiday is celebrated by the Indian population, and although it is a significant size, it is not the majority. The celebration incorporates a lot of the traditional things done in India, although there might be a Malaysian twist. In Malaysia, the decorations are usually oil lamps, rangolis, or kolam designs and a lot of lights. Another similar aspect is the traditional clothing worn at this time, which are sari and kurta. A lot of non-Indian families may wear them as well.

In both countries, the celebration lights up the neighbourhood with colourful lights and the spirit of good over evil. It always brings families and the community together and is a good reason for a reunion for those who are far apart. Both celebrate diversity with an aspect of unification.

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