Diwali in Malaysia – The Indian Festival of Lights

A land of diverse ethnicities and cultures, Diwali in Malaysia is the most prominently celebrated festival of the Hindus that constitute about 8% of its population. Though Islam is the official religion here, with three-fifths of the population being Muslims, Malaysia is a multi-religious society that celebrates Diwali with just the same enthusiasm and zest as India. Malaysia observes a public holiday for one day where all the communities and races partake in this beautiful festival of lights to brighten up each other’s homes as well as lives! Sarawak and Federal Territory of Labuan are the only places in Malaysia that do not celebrate Deepavali due to their very less Indian population. 

Diwali Date 2020

Diwali is celebrated in the month of Kartik (7th month) of the Hindu calendar, between October and November. It takes place on the darkest night which is the first new moon of the month.
Diwali 2020 -14th November, Saturday
Diwali 2021 - 4th November, Thursday
Diwali 2022 - 24th October, Monday

Why is Diwali Celebrated?

A poster art of Lord Ram and Sita
Source
As the majority of the Hindus are Tamils in Malaysia, it follows the south Indian pattern of Deepavali, where it celebrates the festival as the day when Lord Krishna defeated and killed the tyrant ruler Narakasura who had kept torturing his patrons since long. The North Indians celebrate it for 5 days as the return of Lord Ram after 14 years of exile in the forests. The Sikhs celebrate this day as the return of their 6th guru – Guru Hargobind from prison, while the Jains, to commemorate the anniversary of Mahavir’s attainment of Moksha. Buddhists celebrate it as the day when Emperor Ashoka converted to Buddhism.

Significance of Diwali

Diyas are lighted on Diwali in Malaysia
Source
Prominently known as the ‘Festival of Lights’, Diwali is all about the triumph of good over evil and light over darkness. Formed from the combination of the two words ‘Deepa’ meaning ‘lamp’ and ‘vali’ meaning ‘lines’, the entire word signifies ‘rows of lit lamps’. The Lamps or ‘diyas’ are associated with this festival representing the victory of the forces of light over the forces of darkness. It is also a reminder to do good and never harm others.

Diwali Celebrations in Malaysia

In contrast to India, Diwali in Malaysia is celebrated as ‘Hari Diwali’ meaning ‘Green Diwali’ due to the ban on fireworks and crackers in Malaysia. Though crackers form an integral part of the festivity, the brightly-lit ‘diyas’ or lamps on the streets, compensate for it and complete the missing piece of the celebration. Get to know some of the customary rituals and celebrations performed during the time of Diwali in Malaysia:

1. Home Decorations

Rangoli is made with coloured powder outside homes during Diwali in Malaysia
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Just as happiness begins with oneself, the festival of lights also begins from one’s home. About a week before Diwali, the Hindus start spring-cleaning their homes neat and clean. They then light up every nook and corner with lit oil lamps or diyas typically on the balconies and thresholds. The entrance of the houses is also decorated with Rangoli or Kolam, a floor design made out of coloured rice flour and uncooked grains which is basically food for the ants and the insects. This Kolam has a social and symbolic meaning to it. It is a welcoming sign for Ma Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, who is believed to visit their house during this auspicious day.

2. Getting Ready

The Indian pooja rituals followed during Diwali in Malaysia
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Cleansing oneself is just as equal as cleansing one’s home and this carries a cultural connotation. The practice of taking oil baths early in the morning of Diwali is a symbolic ritual that denotes shedding off all the dirt and evil from the body. It is done using herbs like Shikakai or Reetha mixed with coconut or sesame oil, which is believed to refresh and cleanse the body and bring prosperity and wealth to oneself. After this ritual, traditional Indian dresses are worn with ethnic jewellery and accessories. They then pray to Goddess Lakshmi with their families at home and seek blessings from their parents and grandparents.

3. Sweets & Delicacies

Table of Indian sweets
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Feasting is the most fun part of Diwali in Malaysia. Most Indian households join together to make traditional Indian dishes such as Murukku, athirasam, omapodi, achu murukku, laddu, mysore pahu, and many other Indian cakes. They also distribute it to their families and friends from other religions.

4. Shopping & Gifts

Gifts and firecrackers
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Keeping in with the Diwali spirit, most of the families engage in new purchases and gifts at this time of the year. The shopping spree starts a month before, where they buy traditional outfits, puja items, home decors, jewelry, and other spices. On the eve of Diwali, gifts are also bought, wrapped up, and are kept ready for distribution.

5. Visiting Family & Friends

A group of people greeting their friends on Diwali in Malaysia
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Just like any other festivity, Diwali in Malaysia is a time for family reunions and gatherings. Many households open doors to encourage family, friends, and households to drop by and share a conversation or two. Exchanging gifts, sweets and snacks is a common tradition in the Hindu community. Some might also visit others to enjoy a meal and spend quality time enjoying the commencement of a new year together.

Where to Experience Diwali in Malaysia?

1. Little India Brickfields in Kuala Lumpur

Little India in Kuala Lumpur lit up during Diwali celebrations
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This is just a 5-minute walk from KL Sentral Station. During Diwali in Malaysia, one can notice the malls and shops being lit, decorated, and mostly selling traditional Indian clothes during the entire season. Decorative Kolams made of floral and animal patterns and colorful paper lanterns are also displayed on the entrances. This place is the best option to shop saris, religious items, bangles, and spices. Many restaurants in Kuala Lumpur offer special offers on menus presenting Indian sweets and dishes for the season. The entire locality will have a perky vibe with peppy Indian songs playing in the background.

You can also visit Little India in other parts of Malaysia such as Penang, Melaka, Ipoh, and Klang to experience the same vibe.

2. Hindu Temples

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Adorned with colorful lavish flowers, lights, lamps and decors, the Hindu Temples in Malaysia shine the brightest during Deepavali. The most notorious temples to be visited include Sri Kondaswamy Hindu Temple and Sri Mahamariamman Temple with the main deities being Lord Murugan and Mother Mari. Many devotees and families travel from all over the place to gain blessings along with offerings of fruits, flowers, gifts, and coconut milk that are placed at the altar facing the sanctum sanctorum. Pujas are carried out throughout the day for the adorned deities with the priests reciting various mantras performing several rituals.

(Note: Sleeveless tops and shorts are not allowed here)

3. Batu Caves in Selangor

Diwali celebration at Batu Caves
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Located about 11 Km north of Kuala Lumpur, Batu Caves that are over a million years old are home to a famous Hindu Temple with Lord Murugan as the main deity. This place is the most attractive during Diwali, where thousands of people visit this place with devotees performing prayers on the temple grounds. They come with various offerings and flower garlands for the Lord. The rituals start as early as 7:00 AM and go up till the evening. The temple also offers sweets as ‘prasad’, a treat for the people.

Whether you are in Malaysia or not, there is no template as such to celebrate the festival of lights. No matter which religion you belong to, join hands with your friends to celebrate this auspicious festival of hope and happiness!

This post was published by Gayathri Babu

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