Bestu Varas or New Year is one of the major festivals for the Gujarati community and is celebrated with lots of enthusiasm and gaiety in Singapore. This year, it is celebrated on Oct 24.
Diwali is celebrated over five days and starts with Dhanteras, which signifies money.
The second day is known as Kali Chaudas, the 14th day of the month, which is dedicated to Goddess Kali.
Diwali falls on the third day. This is the day to seek the blessings of Goddess Lakshmi, the consort of Lord Vishnu and the deity of wealth, happiness and beauty.
The fourth day is Bestu Varas. Traditionally people get up early, dress in their best clothes and seek God's blessings for a happy and prosperous year ahead. Many Hindus believe that those who are happy on the first day of the new year will remain happy throughout the year.
The fifth day is known as Bhai Dooj, which is celebrated among brothers and sisters.
Said Singapore Gujarati Society president Biren S. Desai: "Bestu Varas has the same significance for us as New Year's Day does for most people. Bestu Varas is dependent on the lunar cycle."
Houses are decorated with torans (door hangings) made from leaves of the Asopalav tree or mango tree and marigold flowers, and rangoli is made near the entrance to the house. People dress in new clothes and visit their friends and family to greet them. Fried homemade snacks known as farsaan and Indian sweets, or mithai, are offered to the guests and neighbours who come to wish them for the new year.
Mr Biren went on to explain how the day is celebrated. "The morning starts early with the young taking blessings from their elders for the year ahead. After a refreshing shower to usher in the new year, we first buy salt. This has been the practice for at least four generations. Close friends and family usually then go visiting."
Having spent more than 47 years in Singapore, Mr Popatbhai Patel, 74, said: "It is a very special day for us, as we all do puja at our respective homes and offices. Back in India, Bestu Varas means the start of a new financial year, so we also do a puja in the office to bring luck at our workplaces."
Remembering Bestu Varas, Mrs Kokila Patel said: "I get a little nostalgic while recounting Diwali celebrations back home. Everyone knows that Gujaratis love their khichdi (a thick porridge made of rice and lentils) - this is one thing that is never cooked on this day. Instead, everyone has fried food and mithai."
Every year, the Singapore Gujarati Society organises a get-together for its members. "This year we are expecting over 1,200 attendees. It is always fun to meet people and share their happiness on New Year," says Mrs Patel, who is a Singaporean. Bestu Varas also brings generations together. Gujarati school teacher Parul Trivedi, 57, said: "My children are always excited about this festival. As a family, we prepare for our New Year celebrations in advance. My children and I make different mithais, and clean and decorate the house."
Her daughter, Ms Namrata Shah, 29, enthusiastically waits for Bestu Varas, as it is the only time of the year when she gets to celebrate with family and friends, dress in colourful saris and eat delicious mithai.
As the Gujaratis would say, "Saal Mubarak" to one and all in the community!
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