Last week we had a public holiday in Singapore for Deepavali. It was on a Thursday but Shannon's school followed the American tradition of making long weekends so Friday was a teacher inservice day. She does go to an American school after all. Sandy took Friday off too so we had a four day weekend. Our original plan was to go to the island of Pulau Tioman in Malaysia which is in the South China Sea. It's not very far. In fact, you used to be able to take a ferry directly from Singapore. The island is very pretty but is small and hasn't been developed much. In fact, there are no roads on the island. When I tried to make arrangements though I found out that the entire island shuts down from November through February for the monsoon. The monsoon here really isn't that bad - at least it didn't seem too bad last year. I guess they don't want to try to operate the transportation services in bad weather and don't have much capacity to absorb travelers because of delays. I know the only way to get there from Singapore is via a single DASH 7 (about 20 place) which flies once a day. But it was ok because we ended up enjoying a long weekend at home. It was especially nice for Sandy since she has had a lot of work travel lately.
In Singapore there is a different approach to accomadating different ethnic and religious groups than in the US. Here instead of completely secularizing holidays each major ethnic group gets one of its holidays set aside as a public holiday. So there is Chinese New Year for the Chinese (duh), Deepavali for Hindus, Hari Raya for Moslems, and Christmas for Christians. This approach probably wouldn't work in the US because every tiny group would sue to have its own special holiday set up. The US is just way too litigious. But in Singapore they set the holidays and that is it.
Deepavali is the major holiday of the year in India and Nepal. It is also known as Deepawali or Diwali. It is the most important religious day for Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and some Buddhists in Nepal. Like Christmas in the US it has been adopted as part of the culture in India and Nepal overall, where it is regarded as a national festival regardless of faith. Kind of embarrassing that I had not even heard of it before I moved to Singapore.
Deepavali is the "Festival of Light". It signifies the conquest of good over evil, both in the world and within an individual. People light lamps to mark the holiday, although now of course they also hang electric lights everywhere similar to Christmas decorations. The celebration lasts from four to six days depending on the region. Exactly when it occurs also varies among calendars used in Nepal and different regions of India. But since they are all lunar calendar, the date moves with respect to the Gregorian Calendar just like Easter. It usually falls in late October or early November.
There are many stories assoicated with Deepavali but the primary one is that it was the homecoming of King Rama after a fourteen year exile and a war in which he killed the demon Ravana. To welcome him home the people lit lamps along the road he traveled. Rama is believed to be the seventh avatar of Vishnu. To learn more, you can read about Deepavali and Lord Rama in Wikipedia.
Sandy and I went down to Little India on Deepavali and walked around. Serangoon Road is the main street and it was decorated for over a mile. There were crowds of people - in places it was impossible to walk on the sidewalk and we had to walk in the street. Most of them were Indians. Sandy thought it looked just like a street in Bangalore. One unusual thing too was that almost all of the Indians were men. Some were walking around. Some were in shops and restaurants, some were just hanging out. But there were very few Indian women. Don't know why.There were a few western tourists wandering around looking at the decorations. There were even some Chinese Singaporeans. Interestingly enough, they looked like tourists too. They were usually couples or families and were wandering around with their cameras and checking out all the decorations.
We did go into two Hindu temples. They were really busy! We went in and looked around. As long as we took off our shoes and were quiet and respectful, no one seemed to mind our presence. Hindu temples are really elaborate, with lots of colorful figures of the various figures in the Hindu pantheon. And there were lights everywhere. I took a few pictures, but since there were people praying and worship services going on, I did not want to use a flash. So the pictures are a little grainy. But you get the idea.