Street life of Johor Bahru

ICONIC: Johor’s iconic Hindu Temple.

MALAYSIA is a multi-racial country which celebrates many exciting festivals throughout the year.

Notwithstanding the monsoon which brings rain and floods, the Hindus prepare for their big and colourful festival – Deepavali (Diwali) or new year.

I was in Johor Bahru to visit the long streets lined with white tents, offering exciting Deepavali goods. Several of these streets are closed to vehicles.

Goods from Indian shops simply overflow into the streets! And shoppers make the most of it before Deepavali is celebrated on Nov 13 this year.

Usually, the festival falls between mid-October and mid-November.

The Hindus follow a lunar calendar like the Muslims and the Chinese but unlike the Muslims and Chinese, the Indians celebrate Deepavali only for five days.

Deepavali is also an official holiday in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Mauritius, Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago, Suriname, Singapore and Fiji. It ushers in the Hindu New Year.

About 80 per cent of the Indians in Malaysia practise Hinduism. About 7.1 per cent of the total population of Malaysia are ethnic Indians.

Deepavali means row of lamps. In Hindu homes, clay lamps are lit to welcome the goddess Lakshmi. Deepavali also symbolises triumph of good over evil.

Did you know that the Hindus also burn firecrackers to drive away evil spirits?

Deepavali open house

Like the other races in Malaysia, the Hindus buy new clothes and share sweets and snacks with family members and friends.

On the first day of Deepavali, their homes are first opened to relatives and then friends from all walks of life. Remarkably, friends of other races take the opportunity to wear Bollywood-style clothes for their visits, adding colours and brilliance to the occasion.

The staunch Hindus celebrate Deepavali because it commemorates the return of Lord Rama – along with Sita and Lakshmana – from his 14-year-long exile and vanquishing of the demon-king Ravana.

In joyous celebration of their king’s return, the people of Ayodhya, capital of Rama, illuminated the kingdom with earthen diyas – and also by letting off firecrackers.

TV2 Tamil news editor Balsubramaniam lending a hand to making a gholam at Pulai Springs Resort Hotel.

Johor Bahru is exceptional because the Chinese and Indian shops are located alongside each other.

On the same row of shops, one can see Indian shops next to Chinese shops. Malays, Chinese and Indian shoppers go in and out of these shops without a second thought of cultural differences. This is, indeed, Malaysia where the races are comfortable with each other, especially in business.

The Malaysian Indians continue to wear their traditional clothes most of the time. A sari-clad Indian woman can often be seen in the company of a business-suited Chinese woman.

A Punjabi lady would wear her traditional Punjabi suit everyday – whether to work or to a social gathering.

Indian men, however, are more global in outlook and they wear European-style shirts and trousers everyday.

It’s only during a festival like Deepavali that they will don their traditional attires to project a sense of tradition and culture.

Foods are also sold at the JB streets to help out busy Indian housewives and working women. Like women of other cultures and religions in the world, Indian women are also pressed for time before and during festivals. And the streets offering goodies are pleasant places to go to for some welcome help.

Bollywood and gholam

MOVIES: Deepavali also means a trip to the cinema.

Bollywood, or Hindi Cinema, also plays a role in a Malaysian Deepavali celebration. But what makes a difference in Malaysia is that people of all races would enjoy the latest Bollywood movie, especially screened for the occasion.

At RM3 per ticket, going to the movies is a real treat for the whole family. The Indian cinema continues to be a money-spinner. And during Deepavali, its box-office is bursting at the seams.

The Pulai Springs Resort, where I was attending a Malaysian Press Institute-Tourism Malaysia writing course, is preparing for Deepavali too.

It touching to see TV2 Tamil news editor Bhalsubramaniam helping out with the gholam – a traditional complicated floral creative artwork. Kneeling on the floor, he carefully and respectfully placed coloured rice on the template.

Watching the different races create a huge gholam together reminds one of the importance of unity and harmony in our previous world.

If the young people can respect each other and work together, what a wonderful new world it would be. Indeed, good will triumph over evil.

Wishing Happy Diwali to everyone. DeepavaliValthukkal. Shubh Diwali.

Open invitation to celebration

MALAYSIANS and foreign tourists wait for an open invitation to the Kuala Lumpur Batu Caves Temple Deepavali celebration.

Like all previous years, the Malaysian Indian Congress, the largest Indian political party in Malaysia, will hold its Deepavali open house at the Batu Caves Temple from 9am to 1pm on Nov 13.

The open area of the Batu Caves Temple in Kuala Lumpur has enough space for more than 15,000 people. And everyone is welcome to the open house, a well-known Malaysian practice.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak is scheduled to attend the open house.