With Deepavali celebrations in Aljunied GRC just over and with preparations underway in Hougang SMC, we caught up with MP-elect Pritam Singh and WP grassroots activist Misra Ramakant to learn more about how they celebrate the Festival of Lights.
MP-elect (Aljunied GRC)
Do you celebrate Deepavali?
Pritam: Yes I do, but as a Sikh, I celebrate it for a different reason. I celebrate Deepavali to commemorate Bandi Chorr Divas, which means the Day of Liberation or Prisoner Release Day. To that end there is some connection with the celebrations surrounding Deepavali, as Bandi Chorr commemorates the victory of right over wrong. Sikhs today celebrate Diwali with the lighting of lamps to commemorate this occasion.
What does Deepavali mean to you?
Pritam: To me, freedom means little if there are others who cannot share in it. Diwali is therefore a time of quiet reflection for me, as well as a reminder of the value system of Sikhism.
What would you like Singaporeans to know about Deepavali?
Pritam: I would like them to know that the some Indian ethnic groups celebrate Deepavali for different reasons, even as the underlying message of light prevailing over darkness stays consistent.
How has the celebration of Deepavali changed over the years?
Pritam: Sikhs around the world are celebrating Deepavali in step with present day mores. For example, this year, many Sikhs, including some in Singapore are choosing not to celebrate Bandi Chorr. They are not lighting up lamps, or are even choosing to wear black to protest against the desecration of the Sikh Holy Book and some fanatical elements in some parts of Punjab a few months ago.
Do you celebrate Diwali?
Rama: Yes I do celebrate Diwali but I follow the northern Indian Hindu calendar.
What does Diwali mean to you?
Rama: Basically what I have learnt over the years including from my parents is the significance of Diwali. Traditionally we do the following during Diwali, which if done with understanding would make our Diwali meaningful:
– Cleaning of the house and our minds of all accumulated sins
– We buy or bring in new things
– We eat sweets to share and sweeten life
– We light lamps like the lamp of knowledge
– We pray to the Goddess Lakshmi for furtherance of our spiritual wealth
– We burst crackers to burst the false bubbles of our ego, hatred and jealousy
Have you ever had a particularly interesting anecdote from past Diwali celebrations?
Rama: Some 14 years ago, I was working in Vietnam and could not come home for Diwali. I joined some other fellow Indians from my organization celebrating jointly with working Indians and the Indian High Commissioner in Ho Chi Minh City. I felt very sad and missed my family (especially my young kids) but celebrating together with other Indians there filled the vacuum of loneliness as they had the same feeling of homesickness.
How has the celebration of Diwali changed over the years?
Rama: When you are younger, you are excited to receive “ang pows” from elders as well as new clothes. I used to help to decorate the house and bake cookies with my mum and my wife as well. But now, it is very superficial. We do the basics and have a get-together to have a vegetarian meal for lunch on Diwali at my mom’s place.