Malaysia may be a majority Muslim country, but its other faiths, Christianity, Buddhism and especially Hinduism, are well represented. Diwali, known as Deepavali in Malaysia, is one of the Hindu faith’s most beloved festivals and the celebration of light. Every year the government of Malaysia organizes a large celebration for the festival in one of the country’s cities. This year brought government officials, pop stars and even the prime minister to Melaka.
The festival signifies the light triumphing over darkness. It involves the lighting of candles, creation of intricate artwork made from colored rice or flour (known as rangoli, pictured below), and sharing of food with friends and family. Each night of the five day festival serves a different purpose, but the Deepavali celebration in Malacca included them all. Here it’s called an “open house,” which brings together Hindus of Malaysia’s many ethnic groups, as well as those not of the faith, under one celebration.
The festivities started early for us, as we spent the afternoon exploring Melaka on our own before meeting up with delegates from other countries, also invited by Tourism Malaysia, for an early dinner. Later we were escorted into the grandstand like VIPs and seated near the front a few down from the real VIP table. Locals had gathered in the outside tents and brought their signature dishes to share with one another.
Performers made their way down to the front and dances were interspersed with speeches by local and national politicians. They were mostly in Malaysian, so apart from a few words, it was over our heads. But I was amazed at the colors of the traditional costumes and movement of the dancers.
Applause and people rising from their seats signified the arrival of Najib Razak, the Prime Minister of Malaysia, the only world leader I’ve ever seen close up. Malaysia has been a constitutional monarchy since it gained independence from the United Kingdom, so the prime minister is appointed by the head of state.
I was relieved to have eaten a bit beforehand because it’s traditional for guests to eat only once the guest of honor, in this case the Prime Minister, has eaten. Since he arrived late, we didn’t even start digging into the dishes, which had been sitting warming at our table for over three hours, until 11 pm.
And as lavish as the entry was, the exit was just as over-the-top. The famous lit trishaws brought out famous singers and led the way for the dancers, who ended the event by throwing colored chalk like you see at celebrations like Holi. I found myself dusted in blue spots, pictured below. Fireworks lit up the sky as we walked back to the bus.
One of the prayers used at Diwali festivals displays the significance of the lights:
From untruth lead us to Truth.
From darkness lead us to Light.
From death lead us to Immortality.
Om Peace, Peace, Peace.
Have you ever celebrated Diwali or Deepavali?
I was a guest of Tourism Malaysia in Melaka for the Deepavali celebrations.