Deepavali – the festival of lights
Diwali or Deepavali is one of the most important religious festivals for Hindus and an important part of Singapore’s rich history and culture. The event traces back to ancient India and several legends are told about the origins, depending on the region. The event brings even more colour and vibrancy to the Little India district in Singapore and attracts many visitors both locally and globally.
Some believe the event celebrates the return of Lord Rama, his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana after a 14-year exile. Legend has it that Lord Rama was deprived of his rightful ascend to the throne and banished to the forests by his stepmother so that her own son could rule. Others say that Deepavali takes place to commemorate Lord Krishna’s victory over the demon king Narakasura. With his victory, the good defeats the evil, the light wins over the dark. This is what people celebrate during Deepavali, the festival of lights.
There are many details to the story and Hindus have devoted many days to celebrate Deepavali, each to honour a different happening as part of the entire story. The last day, in 2012 it’s the 13th of November, is the highlight and also a public holiday in many countries including Singapore.
Several rituals are part of the festival: Families in South India wake up at dawn to take an oil bath. They then dress in new, traditional and richly coloured clothes and head to the temple for prayers. Many homes light small, oil filled clay lamps and decorate their doors with fresh mango leaves and kolam, colourful drawings on the floor at the entrance, to welcome the goddess Lakshmi.
Celebrate with the Indian community, marvel at the colourful decorations and try some of the popular dishes such as deep fried batter in syrup, green mung bean sweets, rice flour pancakes and lentil cake. Several stalls offer flower garlands, glittery costume jewellery, Saris in abundance and charming knick-knacks. Watch local artists painting intricate flower patterns on the feet and hands of Indian women using henna, a plant based dye.
There are many events leading up to the last day of Deepavali, celebrated in different temples around Singapore. These are the top 10 events and things to do:
- Wander along the main streets decorated with huge swans, peacocks, and lotuses.
- Visit the Festival Village at Campbell Lane with over 50 stalls selling traditional goodies.
- Hop on the Deepavali Bus for an amazing ride through the colourful streets for SGD 3.
- Check out the Heritage and Craft Exhibition and try to make traditional clay oil lamps.
- The Festival Bazaar with over 100 stalls is located opposite of Serangoon Plaza.
- The Heritage Village hosts live shows and cultural performances.
- At the Fire Walking Festival devotees walk on hot coals to prove their purity.
- The Silver Chariot Procession is held for devotees to give offerings.
- Enjoy dance, songs and fireworks at the Deepavali Countdown Concert.
- Enjoy yourself at the Utsav Street Parade, showcasing India’s cultural diversity.
For more information and exact timings of performances please visit the website of LISHA.
Note that the bazaars are open daily from 10am to 11pm. The Deepavali Bus operates only on weekends during evening hours. Performances such as dance take place during evening times. We recommend visiting the bazaars on a late afternoon and to stay until late evening to fully enjoy the lights and atmosphere.
View our video of the Street Bazaar in Little India:
A few tips from our local experts
- Take public transport such as MRT. Traffic is usually heavy in this area during the celebrations and parking space rare. You might also encounter difficulties catching a taxi back as they avoid the congested area. During these days you might experience more traffic on the entire island as Indians visit their families and friends.
- Be considerate when entering one of the many beautiful Hindu temples of Singapore and take off your shoes. Visitors are required to cover their shoulders and legs up to the knees. In public spaces such as the bazaars, markets and on the streets, casual clothes are perfectly fine.
How to get to Little India
MRT: North-East line, exit Little India or Farrer Park
Buses that serve Serangoon Road, Tekka Centre: 23, 64, 65, 66, 131, 139, 147