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Friday, 13 October 2017 | MYT 12:00 AM

A deeper meaning to a festival

IT’S that time of the year again – when moderation goes out the window. No, I don’t mean the type of moderation that The Star advocates. It’s the other kind. You know, when you start to overdo things, like overeat and over-indulge.

It’s Deepavali time.

Deepavali is many things to many people. It’s a spiritual celebration, when Hindus honour the god Krishna who is said to have slain the demon Narakasura. It was a moonless night when Krishna’s victory happened so Hindus light up their homes to signify the victory of light over darkness. To this day, Deepavali is celebrated on a moonless night.

Krishna was a personification – or avatar – of Vishnu, one of the Hindu trinity. So was Rama, the protagonist of the epic Ramayana. Deepavali is also a celebration of Rama’s triumphant return to his kingdom of Ayodhya after a 14-year exile and after slaying the evil Ravana.

The people of Ayodhya apparently lined the path with lights to welcome their returning king.

For some, it’s about yet another avatar – Vamana – who banished the boastful king Mahabali to the netherworld. The king returns once a year to see the revelry in his erstwhile kingdom.

It is also a day when Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and even some Buddhists stop to take stock and renew the battle within themselves – the battle between the evil and the good that rages within us.

It is a time to embrace each other and let that light within us shine through. Deepavali, after all, literally means a row of lights.

For me, it’s also a time to remember. To remember those who are no longer with us. On Deepavali eve, there will be prayers, both to the gods and for those who have passed on. We will remember fondly their words, their favourite food and the many ways in which they touched our lives.

And we will celebrate. There will be open houses. For me this year, there will be a birthday party as well and I expect friends, colleagues and neighbours – Indians, Chinese, Malays and Sabahans, too – to join in the merriment.

This togetherness is something that’s sorely needed now in our country. It’s frightening to think that there are those who want us to hate each other, to stay away from each other. It boggles the mind to think that there are people who would consider their neighbours “dirty” to the point that they would not share cups, utensils, shopping trolleys, even washing machines with them.

That, to me, is the evil that dwells within us. And now is the time to fight and overcome it. So, we can all live together as one big family.

There is light at the end of the tunnel. The royals, for instance, realise that we are going way off tangent and have decreed that unity must come first. They have clearly stated that nothing must harm the harmony that exists within our multi-religious, multi-ethnic society.

There was none of this when we were little.

Every day we walked hand in hand. Deepavali day was extra special. Early in the morning, we would have our oil baths, change into our new clothes and, with trays of murukku and other cookies in hand, we would head off to the homes of our neighbours. It was tradition to pass those home-made cookies to the neighbours, whatever their religion or race.

As kids, we had other things in mind, too. Those trays of cookies would not come back empty. There would be ang pows in them. And that was the motivation to rise and shine so early in the morning.

With the ang pow in the pocket, we would round up the other children in the neighbourhood – again regardless of race or religion – and raid the nearest coffee shop for ais kacang, ais “kapai” or ice cream Malaysia, the favourites of children those days.

Open houses were exactly that – houses with doors wide open. The neighbourhood kids could come in and go out as they please, like it was their own home. The parents of the hosts did not question a thing – not their clothes, their diet or what animal they may have just touched.

As kids, none of us considered the other superior or lesser. We were all one.

Oh, and the ais kacang, was always super delicious as strangely, every Deepavali was – at least in my memory – a bright, sunny day. Light always won and darkness stayed away.

It hasn’t been that way in recent years. Every year, the day has been wet and often dark. It must be a telling sign from the heavens.

The writer, who can be reached at the raj@thestar.com.my would like to wish everyone a Happy Deepavali. And he hopes the sun shines bright on Tuesday and Wednesday.