Keeping unique traditions alive during Deepavali

By John Bunyan, May Robertson, Anith Adilah and R. Rohaizam

IPOH, Oct 17 — Deepavali is not just about welcoming the Festival of Lights, but also signifies the importance of sharing.

Hindus usher in the auspicious day by giving food, clothes and money to loved ones and the less fortunate.

However, few people know gifts are always in odd numbers.

According to community elder Letchumy Nadesan, 74, giving in odd numbers would double the giver’s blessings.

“The blessing could be any form or kind but they will receive double the amount they have given. This way, the receiver and giver will be blessed,” Letchumy explained when met at her home in Buntong.

The belief in odd numbers extends beyond Deepavali.

“Even when we serve murukku to guests, they will be in odd numbers,” she said.

“When we attend a wedding or any other occasion and want to give a cash gift, we add RM1 to the amount we wish to give.”

Letchumy said preparing snacks and sweets for the festival is today taken for granted.

“There is a saying that if there is no murukku, there is no Deepavali,” she said.

“A few weeks before, we gather with family to make the sweets and snacks.”

Traditions are rigorously followed in Letchumy’s family, which starts with rising at dawn for an oil bath.

“The custom cleanses against all things inauspicious, and blesses us with prosperity and wealth,” she said.

The lighting of deepam or kuthu vilakku (oil lamps), and receiving blessings from parents and elders are customary.

“Lighting oil lamps marks the triumph of light over darkness. The celebration is meaningless if you do not light oil lamps.

“When we bow and touch the feet of elders, it symbolises our humble and respectful nature.”

Letchumy said visiting a temple on Deepavali morning should not be skipped.

“God overcame evil and delivered good to us. In return we should be thankful. The proper way to do it is to visit the temple and perform the necessary prayers and rituals.”

She recalled Deepavali in her younger days as simple but enjoyable.

“Relatives and friends got together to clean the house and cook mutton curry, chicken curry, prawn sambal and briyani,” she said.

The elaborate dishes were prepared using traditional methods.

“We didn’t have blenders but the ammikallu (grindstone) to make the masala paste, and cooked on charcoal or wood,” she said.

Letchumy’s son, Commissioner of Police Datuk A. Thaiveegan, observed how Deepavali in Malaysia unifies Malaysians.

“Notwithstanding the significance to Hindus, Deepavali unites us in Malaysia. We must cherish our different cultures and use occasions like Deepavali to get closer.”

Thaiveegan had some advice for those celebrating: “Respect for elders and everyone else must always be part of our culture. Always be safe when travelling, and never forget your roots.”