by Sheela Narayanan
FOR Hindus, the festival of lights is one of the most important dates in the calendar.
Deepavali/Diwali is a Sanskrit word which means path or array of lights and signifies the victory of good (light) over evil (darkness).
In South India, Deepavali is a time to mark Lord Krishna's defeat of the demon Narakasura.
The other belief is that it is a time to honour King Bali, the generous demon king who was banished into the netherworld after obeying an order from Lord Vishnu.
In Northern India, Diwali is a celebration of Lord Ram's return to his kingdom in Ayodhya after his 14-year forest exile and his victory over the demon Ravana, the King of Lanka, who abducted his wife Sita.
The story goes that Ram landed in South India first before arriving a day later in North India - which is why the North celebrates it a day after the South.
For the business communities, it is the start of their financial year where the Lakshmi Pooja is done and new account books are opened.
What the festival signifies is the unity in diversity as every community and state celebrates it in its own special way.
How local associations celebrate
"For Diwali we usually have a get together like a dinner and dance. And because the North Indian celebrations will be on Tuesday - it is not a public holiday - we will be holding it on Sunday."
- Bharti Parwani, secretary of the Singapore Sindhi Association.
"In the 1950s and 1960s, it was a day when we sought blessings from our elders and it was a vegetarian affair for it was thought that it was inauspicious to kill an animal on Diwali. The festival was celebrated for a month and we would have meat dishes on the other days. Now celebrations are a little more quiet and because we can?t celebrate it for a month, we cook meat on the same day as well."
- Mr Ram Janam Misra, former president of the Singapore Bhojpuri Society.
"The Hindu Endowments Board along with its partners, Little India Shopkeepers and Heritage Association, Singapore Tourism Board and Central Singapore CDC, have chalked out a month-long series of activities in Little India annually during the Deepavali festive season."
- Mr S. Nallathamby, CEO of The Hindu Endowments Board.
This article was first published in tabla! on Oct 24, 2008.