[This article was originally published in 2014]
Deepavali is around the corner, but there is absolutely NO feel of Deepavali anywhere, no decorations, no festivity mood… there is not even big sale for Deepavali. Unless you walk into Brickfields (or “little India’ as it is called) there is hardly any evidence that Deepavali is celebrated here in Malaysia.
Let’s look at the facts, this is the breakdown of the races in Malaysia: Malay 50.1%, Chinese 22.6%, indigenous 11.8%, Indian 6.7%, other 0.7%, non-citizens 8.2% (2010 est.). With only 6.7% of Malaysian being Indians (outnumbered by Bangladeshis and Indonesians in the country) we were always told that Indians make the third highest race of people in Malaysia, but obviously this is not true… but does that mean we should be neglected especially on our biggest and most grand holiday? It is almost a surprise we even GET a holiday.
As an Indian myself, I feel like everyone MUST get excited about Deepavali, as it is after all, our only proper festival in Malaysia (I know there’s Thaipusam too, but that is more of a devotional celebration). Many have voiced the frustrations about how cold the mood has been and here are 5 reasons, I think, Deepavali gets NO attention from anyone:
1. There are no Deepavali Songs
When Chinese New Year, Hari Raya or even Christmas comes along, you can’t go 3 steps without festive songs blasting in your ear. We all even remember the lyrics better that any other overplayed songs from Justin Bieber. We all bear the pain of those songs being played over and over and over and over again, why? Because it is festive and it reminds us that a public holiday is coming.
Deepavali however has absolutely NO songs that bring the festive mood. I have researched this quite extensively, and there are no songs written specifically for Deepavali. Type in Deepavali songs in Google and you get a few hits, mostly just Indian songs from movies and even some devotional songs, but none that have the feel of “Selamat Hari Raya” by the late Datuk Sharifah Aini.
Maybe we should get on writing a “Selamat Hari Deepavali” song, but we Indians are somewhat of a fickle bunch. Even if there were 1 or 2, can you imagine listening to them over and over and over again?
2. There are no festive mascots
Christmas has Santa Claus, elves, reindeers etc. and Chinese New Year has the Lion Dance, Lunar Calendar animals and the guy with the long white beard.
What does Deepavali have? Nothing. Maybe oil lamps if you count inanimate objects to be mascots. I mean, you could tell Santa what you want for Christmas, and the kids love that… you could ask your Feng Shui expert what you could expect based on your Lunar birth year Animal and the adults LOVE that… can you do the same on Deepavali with an oil lamp.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the symbolism of the light being always able to defeat the dark… but Santa gives out PRESENTS! Try explaining that to a 5 year old child and see which he would be more interested in.
3. There is no special food (anymore)
As Malaysians we are very connected to food, so when Hari Raya comes about, everyone looks forward to some awesome ketupat, lemang and rendang. When Chinese New Year is looming, we all get a taste of mandarin orange, bah kua and even Nian Gao.
Can I say the same about the Indian cuisine during Deepavali? No. Because the Indian cuisine has been oversold everywhere. Many believe that Indian food is the best in the world (and I have to agree) but it is available everywhere at any time. I remember when I was a kid and we used to look forward to Thosai and Mutton Curry in the morning, a nice Briyani in the afternoon and a feast of Mutton, chicken and vegetables in the night. But guess what, all those are readily available throughout the calendar even in the most Chinese of areas in Malaysia. I still remember a time when Thosai was considered exotic in Malaysia, but now it has become way too mainstream.
It is almost like liking Indian food has become too mainstream, it is not hipster enough. The marketing team on Indian food has done SUCH a good job that it does not leave a sense of enigma or mystery to what we can offer anymore…
Even the last bastion in the exclusively Deepavali cuisine, the Muruku has been oversold. So much so, it is even available in Hari Raya open houses and EVEN in Chinese New Year open houses *GASP*.
4. Oktoberfest and Halloween are more exciting
This year, when you walk into a shopping mall, instead of seeing decorations for Deepavali, you will see more decorations for Halloween. OUTRAGE! But then, according to surveys, the buying power of the Indian community is almost negligible, according to sources, which means you would appeal to more with Halloween than Deepavali. GASP! But it is about what sells rather than keeping the minorities happy.
There’s also the Oktoberfest celebrated in Malaysia for the month of October (although traditionally celebrated in Germany on the last 2 weeks of September. Places of leisures and “Tempat Istirehat” have all decided that Oktoberfest would be even more profitable to promote. To be honest, most Indians don’t really need an excuse to celebrate… we don’t care what the promotions are for… as long as there IS promotions for happy juice.
5. No one knows the actual date
Last year Malaysia confused everyone by moving the date of Deepavali, confusing many on when the holiday actually is. I don’t know how this is possible but it has happened. Even this year, if you Google the date of Deepavali, you will get 23rd October as the result, but then there was a change to the gazetted date with the advice of the Malaysian Hindu Sangam President.
According to theantdaily.com with an article written by Sonia Ramachandran:
Malaysia Hindu Sangam president Datuk RS Mohan Shan told theantdaily.com that the Sri Maha Mariamman Temple Devasthanam had given this information to the government two years ago.
“Like how we explained to the people last year, Deepavali falls on Chaturdashi Tithi. The early morning bath taken by Hindus on Deepavali day is considered a bath in the holy water of Ganges and this should fall on Chaturdashi Tithi, not Amavasya Tithi, which is considered the day of the black or dark moon.
“The last two years has seen the Chaturdashi Tithi and Amavasya Tithi falling far apart when in the past, they used to fall on the same day with Chaturdashi Tithi falling in the morning followed by Amavasya Tithi in the afternoon. Only now is it falling on separate days. The assumption that Deepavali should fall on Amavasya Tithi is wrong because it shouldn’t be during the black moon,” – Datuk RS Mohan Shan, The Ant Daily
Malaysia Hindu Sangam president Datuk RS Mohan Shan told theantdaily that the Sri Maha Mariamman Temple Devasthanam had given this information to the government two years ago.
It sounds very technical and difficult to understand, and that is why people are confused, and have an excuse to forgo the celebrations.
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Well, all is not lost of course, because if you still watch terrestrial TV, you could still look forward to Indian movies so outdated, they were made before you were born, or you could go to Bukit Jalil for your cheap Deepavali Fair shopping fix that could get you a bargain (even the fair is held in a place with low number of Indians). There are still many excited for the holidays and there will be some open houses around, so make sure you go and hunt for good free food.
Here’s wishing everyone a Happy Deepavali and happy holidays.
And for your viewing pleasure: www.tambi.my