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Actually, how do you celebrate Deepavali? We ask 3 Malaysians.

Hooray, it’s Deepavali Day! Yay for public holidays!

But if you’re like the writer and have never celebrated Deepavali before, what do we really know about Deepavali, other than what’s on Wikipedia and corporate ads? Well, we got curious and asked three Malaysians who celebrate Deepavali some burning questions about the day…

  • Reena, 20
  • Dee, aka Cilisos Video Kepala, 24
  • Mogan, 36

…and the very first question we asked was…

 

“What do you actually do on Deepavali?”

From the interviews, it seems that each family has their own way of celebrating Deepavali, but there are common points between them. The first is prayers for deceased family members. This is commonly done on Deepavali eve, although we were told that it depends on when individual families feel is the best: it can be three days before Deepavali, or on the morning itself. With the exception of those who were buried in a cemetery, the prayers are usually done at home, on a family’s private altar.

Img courtesy of Matdura.

As for what happens on Deepavali morning, we’ll mostly be referring to Mogan‘s account as it’s the most detailed one we have. It’s common to wake up early – like 6 am early – to start the celebrations, although some families may see it auspicious to wake up a bit later.

The eldest person in the family would pour a little oil on the top of everyone’s heads, and everyone takes part in an oil bath. This is when you smear oil over all parts of your body and let it absorb for around half an hour. According to Dee, this has a cooling effect. Traditionally, the oil bath is followed by smearing something called siyaka powder (might be a local name for shikakai) all over the body before taking a normal shower, but we’re not sure if it’s common practice.

This is followed by a prayer session at home, where the eldest members of the family would hand out new clothes and give their blessings to other members of the family. For some families, this is the time to furnish the altar room with flowers and set out offerings of sweets, candies, and fruits to deceased members of the family, and a portion of the morning’s cooking to the deities. It’s common to go to a temple afterwards for more prayers.

Img courtesy of Matdura.

Then it’s time for breakfast. A common Deepavali breakfast seems to consist of idli and thosai, accompanied with chicken or mutton curry and chutney. Other snacks, like muruku, jalebi, ladu, and cookies like pineapple tarts would also be available. But as Reena had put it, there’s really no set menu for this: it’s a celebration with your family, so you have what you want to have.

For our interviewees, breakfast seems to mark the end of the formal portion of Deepavali: the rest of the day is usually spent hanging out with family members. Visiting family and friends on the first day seems to be uncommon, but not unheard of. That’s usually reserved for the subsequent days. The final event of Deepavali day would be getting together at night and playing with fireworks.

And that’s how a usual Deepavali day goes for our interviewees. Now that we more or less have an idea of what actually happens during Deepavali, we asked our interviewees how they feel about certain Deepavali things to get a glimpse of what the day is like. Here are some of their answers.

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“What do you look forward to every Deepavali?”

Gathering for breakfast. Photo courtesy of Matdura.

Reena:

Gathering with your family and friends, and also playing with firecrackers. There’s also decorating the house, going shopping, buying clothes – traditional clothes, like sari, Punjabi suit, all that.

Mogan:

My favorite part about Deepavali is that it’s the best time to meet your friends and relatives. Usually we chit-chat, have some alcohol… this is the most enjoyable moment for us, especially when meeting our school friends, dorm friends, relatives. Because nowadays we live busy lives, it’s very rare to see them all. But on Deepavali, we can meet them all together, you know?

Dee:

What I look forward to is maybe games you play with your family, because any time other than Deepavali I don’t think we can get everyone to sit and eat together. So from eating together up to just chilling around together… that’s what I look forward to the most. I just want everyone to be home, sit there, talk random stuff and spend time together,

 

“Would you say Deepavali for you today is different from 10 years ago?”

Angpow giving also happens on Malaysian Deepavalis. Img courtesy of Matdura.

Reena:

Definitely, yes. Some of our family members couldn’t make it for Deepavali Day… before, everybody made sure that everyone’s together, in the same house to celebrate. But now, maybe one or two family members would be missing, they have work, they have somewhere (else to be), they couldn’t make it, they’re in a different country…”

And maybe some of the tradition might have changed, like before it was more authentic, but now it’s a more modernized version of Deepavali,

Mogan:

I feel yes. I feel that I enjoyed Deepavali more back then. Nowadays, I still like Deepavali, but it’s not the same kind of enjoyment as I had last time. I don’t know why. Maybe ten years ago I was young, not worried about the world, my work, the burden of other things. Maybe I was more free then. I still enjoy Deepavali today, but I still have to think about my work, my family, other things,”

Last time I receive the angpow, but now I have to give out angpow,

Dee:

Definitely yes. Now in general I feel that people are celebrating it for the hype where you go out and you’re focusing more on your first day attire, your first day outfit, you want to make an Insta post, you know? But perhaps I think they should just focus on the time you spend with your family.”

I think the importance you give to family before is definitely more than now. Like last time when it’s Deepavali, almost everything is about your family and your immediate relatives. But now I think it’s just going out, getting photos, being havoc here and there, stuff like that. It’s not really, you know, ikhlas for your family and stuff,

 

“Finally, complete this sentence: To me, Deepavali is all about…

Reena:

happiness, and sharing wealth with the family.

Mogan:

enjoyment.

Dee:

family.

No, Dee isn’t short for Dominic. Gif from Giphy.

 

Happy Deepavali from all of us at Cilisos!

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