Born and raised in Malaysia, Mazlan is proud of his Malaysian and Asian heritage. He likes to write about its culture and current issues.
Diwali Festival of Lights
Just as Christians celebrate Christmas, Hindus all over the world celebrate Diwali.
What is Diwali?
Diwali, also known as Deepavali or the festival of lights symbolizes the victory of good over evil. It is the biggest religious festival celebrated by Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs around the world. It is associated with various legends and traditions but what is important today is that it is the celebration where families and friends get together and enjoy the traditional Diwali meals and sweets.
When is Diwali?
Diwali is celebrated in the seventh month of the Hindu calendar. In the Gregorian calendar, the date changes every year and is usually between mid-October to mid-November.
Diwali vs. Deepavali
Deepavali is the original name from Sanskrit, and it means row of lamps. Diwali is the contraction of the original name Deepavali and may have been simplified during the British Rule of India.
There are many versions of mythology and folklore that are linked to this festival. Probably the most popular story and the one commonly associated with the Diwali celebration is the return of Lord Rama after a 14-year exile, reuniting with his wife Sita, and after having killed the demon, King Ravana.
Why Celebrate Diwali
The prince’s triumphant return to his homeland was joyously celebrated by lighting up the homes and the streets with earthen oil lamps. It is a celebration that symbolizes the spiritual "victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance". This ritual of lighting oil lamps is now an integral and important part of Diwali celebrations.
Another version of why people celebrate Diwali; it is the birth date of Goddess Lakshmi. Also, on the night of Diwali, Lakshmi married Vishnu, the preserver, and protector of the universe.
For some Hindu communities, Diwali coincides with the end of the harvest season and the start of a new year.
How Many Days is Diwali?
Diwali usually lasts five days, starting from Dhanteras, then Narak Chaturdashi (Chhoti Diwali), followed by Lakshmi Pujan (Badi Diwali), later, the Govardhan Puja, and lastly, Bhai Dooj. These are the Diwali days. So, how to celebrate Diwali?
How is Diwali Celebrated?
- Dhanteras: This is the first day of Diwali to welcome good luck, wealth and prosperity. Traditionally, people will clean their house and pray to Lakshmi for prosperity, to Kuber for wealth, and to Ganesha, the God of auspicious beginnings. They will buy gold and silverware jewelry, and metal utensils to ward off bad luck and to bring good fortune.
- Narak Chaturdashi (Chhoti Diwali): The second day of Diwali celebrates the killing of the demon Narakasura by Lord Krishna. People will wear new clothes, visit relatives, friends, and business colleagues, and exchange gifts.
- Lakshmi Pujan (Badi Diwali): This is the third day of Diwali to celebrate the generosity of goddess Lakshmi in granting her followers' wishes. On this day, they will decorate their homes with clay lamps, rangoli, torans on the doorway and cook Diwali feasts.
- Govardhan Puja: This fourth day of Diwali is the day of thanksgiving to Lord Krishna. On the day of Govardhan Puja, varieties of vegetarian foods are cooked and offered to Lord Krishna.
- Bhai Dooj: On the last day of the festivities, sisters will invite their brothers and their families for a large feast as part of the sacred bond between brother and sister. Sister will put a tilak on the brother's forehead and in return, the brother will give a gift as a show of his love.
Diwali in Malaysia
In Malaysia, Diwali is observed as a public holiday and it is a day of festive joy. Malaysians have a tradition of “open house” where friends and relatives will visit their homes and celebrate the festive seasons together, irrespective of their faith.
This happens not only during the Hindu festival, but also the Muslim’s Eid al-Fitr, Chinese New Year, or during Christmas. So, for Diwali Malaysians will visit their friends of the Hindu faith.
Driving Home for Diwali
This is also that time of the year when highways leading out of the main cities will be congested. Not only people of the Hindu faith will drive back to their hometown to celebrate Diwali with families, but also other races who take advantage of the public holiday.
Celebration During Pandemic
Unfortunately, with the pandemic, this has temporarily stopped and even family members are advised to stay home and celebrate the festivities with friends and relatives, online.
Traditional Diwali Food
Some of the popular traditional Diwali foods that are either prepared at home or bought from reputable sellers for their unique taste are samosa, bhaji, idli, puri, rasmalai, phirni, dahi bhalla, and puran poli.
Popular Indian snacks and sweets are muruku, adhirasam, ladoo, nei urandhai, kheer, and achu muruku.
Since most people will be vegetarian during Diwali festivities, the dishes are typically cooked with vegetables, paneer, a kind of cheese, and/or eggs. These are best taken with a cup of masala chai tea.
Diwali Special Food
To cater to guests from other ethnic groups and religious beliefs, the host will prepare special food such as ‘halal’ food for their Muslim friends.
I always visit my Hindu friends on Diwali to wish them Happy Diwali and also because I am a great lover of Indian sweets and desserts. So, my true intention is now revealed!
My favorites are nei urandhai, gulab jamun, ladoo and rasmalai. The other favorite is kallu orundei, a sweet that is so hard and if you throw it to a wall, the wall will probably break!
Of course, you will also find the well-loved muruku and omapodi that are unanimously accepted by all races in Malaysia to be the must-have cookies at any festive season.
Best Diwali Sweets to Try
I know I have mentioned Diwali sweets earlier, but I will say it again, here. You must try at least one of these favorite Indian sweets, served not just during Diwali, but also all year round:
- Palkova: Made from boiled milk and sugar. It is usually thickened with milk powder & ghee.
- Ladoo: This is my favorite Indian sweet. It looks like a golf ball and is slightly hard. Made from a mixture of roasted chickpea flour, cardamoms, sugar and ghee.
- Jelebi: This circular coils-shaped sweet is too sweet for my taste as it is soaked in syrup. Made from yogurt, rice flour, cardamom seed powder, rose water and sugar.
- Halwa: This is another favorite of mine and is made from a mixture of ghee, raisins, flour, milk, sugar, and cashew nuts. Another variation is the Gajar Halwa that is made with grated carrots.
- Kesari: Made from a mixture of milk, semolina flour, fresh milk, sugar, cardamom powder, ghee, raisins, and cashew nuts.
- Mysore Pak: This very hard sweet that takes an effort to bite is made from roasted dhal flour, ghee, and sugar.
- Gulab Jamun: Despite its very sweet syrupy taste, Gulab Jamun is my top favorite of Indian sweets. This spongy sweet milk ball made from flour, suji, ghee and milk, is deep-fried and then soaked in scented syrup (lemon, cardamom and kesar).
- Rasmalai: This is served chilled and topped with chopped pistachios. Made from cottage cheese, sugar, semolina, cardamom, and milk.
- Athirasam: Another favorite of mine. Made from rice flour, jaggery, cardamom and ghee, these crunchy dark brown ring-shaped sweets are deep-fried, so they can be a bit greasy.
Open House Tradition
This Malaysian tradition of the open house is held not only in private homes but also by the business community as a way of ‘keeping in touch' and saying thank you to their clients.
Political parties use this event to reinforce their ‘presence’ in the area. This practice is so uniquely Malaysian that even travel agencies have taken advantage of this uniqueness by getting tourists to partake in feasting and merriness.
Day of Diwali Celebration
Typically, on the eve of Diwali, offerings and prayers will be made to ancestors and deceased family members. On Diwali morning, waking up before sunrise, they will do the herbal oil bath ritual where oil is applied on heads and then a bath is taken.
This ritual is known as ‘ganga snanam’ and is the cleansing of impurities of the past year. Prayers are held at the family altar, or they may go to the temples for the Thanksgiving prayers.
Diwali, being a festival of lights symbolizing the victory of good over evil, people will have their homes decorated with oil lamps and lights. Burning the oil lamp throughout the day as well as into the night is believed to ward off darkness and evil. The doorways will be hung with torans of mango leaves.
The entrances to their homes will be adorned with ‘kolam’, an intricate design using rice flour, and are believed to invite prosperity to the home.
Preparation for Deepavali in Malaysia
Diwali preparation in Malaysia usually starts at least three weeks beforehand. They will be busy cleaning their houses in preparation for the festival and of course shopping for new clothes and new things for their house.
With the current economic situation now, most Malaysians will be careful with their expenditures and will forgo any new items for the house. Some may not buy any new clothes for themselves, but will definitely get at least one for the children. The woman folks will follow the traditional Diwali way by having henna art painted on their hand.
Deepavali Street Bazaar
This is also the time of the year when local authorities will issue special permits for vendors to open small kiosks along busy streets in Kuala Lumpur (KL for short) or Penang's Little India or other areas that are patronized by Indians. These street bazaars will sell delicacies such as Indian sweets and desserts, saris, clothes and accessories such as bangles, festive items such as greeting cards, garlands, and traditional oil lamps.
Little India in Kuala Lumpur
The streets of Little India will be beautifully decorated and lit up in various festive colors. Customers will bargain and haggle for a good deal and stalls owners will try to attract customers with many offers that are hard to resist.
While you feast your eyes on these happenings, feast your tummy with Indian food such as roti canai, thosai, curries and don’t forget to order ‘teh tarik’, the Malaysian version of the frothy milk tea.
Shopping for Diwali
Most Indian wives who are working and do not have the time to cook and prepare these lavish sweets, desserts, and delicious Indian curry will buy from these vendors.
Some will buy from other housewives who take advantage of this festive season to earn extra income by preparing and selling these delicacies. If they are known for their great culinary style, producing great tasting foods, then you have to do advance booking. Likewise, for clothes as good tailors may not accept any late orders.
You may think that only Indians will be shopping. You will be surprised to see other races patronizing these areas as well, buying that special Indian dress or the Indian desserts and sweets. This is what makes Malaysia unique.
Happy Diwali Greetings and Wishes
10 Happy Diwali Wishes and Greetings
Thinking of sending Diwali wishes to your Hindu friends? Here are some examples of typical Diwali and Deepavali greetings and wishes to brighten up their celebration and to honor their Festival of Lights.
- May your Diwali be safe, free from darkness, and filled with the richness of lights.
- May the Deepavali lights burn out your troubles and brighten your life.
- May your festival of light be safe, prosperous, and spiritual.
- Wishing you a bright and safe Diwali.
- May the Deepavali lights make all your wishes come true this Diwali.
- Light the diya and may your Diwali be glorious!
- May the Deepavali light inspire you to find your true love and bring you happiness.
- May this year bring you success and joy as bright as the Diwali lights.
- May you have sweet wishes and brighter days this Diwali and the rest of the year.
- May there be warmth and brightness of the Deepavali lights shining on you all year.
Other Religious Festivals
- Tangerines and Oranges: Chinese New Year Symbols
Chinese New Year celebration is a major festival celebrated by the Chinese and it is associated with many symbols and customs. It is important to have good auspicious symbols displayed on this day and tangerines and oranges are such examples.
- Pongal Celebration in Malaysia
The Pongal celebration is celebrated not only by Tamils in South India but also in Malaysia. It is a Thanksgiving festival to celebrate a good harvest.
- Chinese New Year Celebration in Malaysia
The Chinese New Year celebration starts on the first day of the Chinese calendar and is celebrated by all the Chinese communities all over the world including Malaysia. This usually happens either in late January or early February.
- Ushering in Year of Dragon: Chinese New Year 2012
According to the Chinese zodiac, Chinese New Year 2012 will usher in the Year of Dragon. Experts in Chinese Astrology and Chinese Horoscope will use the five elements of Metal, Water, Wood, Fire, and Earth theory to predict one's fortune in 2012
- Thaipusam Celebration in Malaysia
Thaipusam is a holy festival celebrated by Hindus of Tamil origin from South India. It is also celebrated by Tamils in countries such as Malaysia and Singapore. It is perhaps the most elaborate and spectacular of all the Hindu festivals.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2011 Mazlan A
Mazlan A (author) from Malaysia on November 04, 2012:
Hi Marieke, Penang will be a good alternative to KL. It has a large Indian population and it was the main landing point when Indian from South India first entered Malaya (old name for Malaysia), a century ago. Hence, historically, Penang has many significant Indian heritages.
It is known for the best Indian food in the country. When you are there, go to restaurant that says 'Nasi Kandar' and try their fish head curry.
Penang has some interesting temples and other attractions and I am sure you will enjoy the city.
From KL, it will be about 5 hours’ drive. Alternatively, you can fly (1hr) or take the train (5hr)
Marieke on November 03, 2012:
Hi there, this is a very interesting read about your country! Would you be able to recommend a city to go to for deepavali in malaysia other than KL? Many thanks! Marieke
Mazlan A (author) from Malaysia on December 22, 2011:
Thanks Geoffclarke, hope ypu had a good stay and will come back again..looking forward to your articles
geoffclarke from Canada on December 21, 2011:
Enjoyed your article. I've just returned from a trip to Malaysia and was lucky enough to be there during the lead up to Deepavali. Hoping to set up a hub about my trip in the coming weeks. Good luck with your writing - you're off to a great start!
Mazlan A (author) from Malaysia on October 17, 2011:
Hi wwriter - Thanks for your comment and so nice to meet you here on HubPages! Keep in touch
wwriter from India on October 17, 2011:
It is great to read about the Diwali celebration in Malayasia. It is really good to see people of all faiths celebrating festivals together. After all, is this not what festivals are all about - getting together of peoples hearts and minds!
Mazlan A (author) from Malaysia on October 15, 2011:
Hi Nell Thanks. You should come over to Malaysia as well..alot of nice places to do the face exercises!!
Nell Rose from England on October 15, 2011:
Hi, interesting and lovely hub about Diwali, I have a friend who goes to Malaysia every couple of years and she says its wonderful! really enjoyed reading about the different cultures and beliefs, rated up! cheers nell