Deepavali: Awareness of the Inner Light


Northern Lights over Oslo – photo by flickRarity

When I was in kindergarten, I learned about the different ethnic groups (known in Singapore as “races”) in Singapore and the festivals they celebrated. Ours, the Chinese “race”, was coolest because we had our New Year for two days in a row, and we received cash money from relatives and friends of our parents.

Every other festival was known as a “New Year”. Hari Raya was “Malay New Year”, Deepavali was “Indian New Year”. We also celebrated with the ethnic groups known as the “race” of “others” during the proper “New Year”, or “Ang Moh New Year”, as my grandparents used to call the first day of January. Christmas and Easter were also “Ang Moh” festivals which we knew weren’t New Year’s Days. You just know these things when you’re such a smart kid.

We’ve been invited to a Deepavali luncheon this week, and I’ve only realised that it’s only been in the last decade or so that some of us have started calling it Diwali as well. We also watched a very funny episode of The Office titled “Diwali”.

Naomi asked me why there was a difference between the names, and whether they were two separate festivals. Being the smart kid that I am, I told her that they were one and the same, and that Diwali was Hindi for Deepavali, and Deepavali was Tamil for Diwali, and that we’ve only started calling it Diwali because of an increasing North Indian / Bollywood influence here, and that previously, all Singaporeans knew about India was that everyone spoke Tamil because if you are Indian you are Tamil.

As with most things I state with an air of authority, I found later that I was only half right.

Diwali and Deepavali are actually two different festivals. Diwali is celebrated in the north one day after Deepavali is celebrated in the south. Diwali celebrates the return from exile of Lord Ram to Ayodyha, while Deepavali celebrates the victory of Lord Krishna over the demon Naraka.

Thank goodness for the ingterneck, else I’d never have googled the term difference between Deepavali and Diwali and I’d never have landed on a blog post titled,Difference between Diwali in North India and Deepavali in South India“.

And while I was at it, I looked up some more stuff about India and her peoples, just to add to the anecdote I’m about to put here about a platoon mate of mine who got really really offended when the Chinese platoon mates called him “Bangkalee” and “Keling kia” in what we thought was Hokkien, both being terms the older generations of Chinese used to call Indians, and akin to when every Singaporean calls any Caucasian “Ang Moh”.

“I am not from Kalinga, nor am I of Bengali origin”, said Corporal Selvam Sivaraman very eloquently, before he added just as eloquently, “you stupid Chinese communist bastard Ching Chong chow chee bye motherfuckers!”

So, yes, you should never anyhowly use the word “Bengali” or “Kalinga” to call any person of Indian origin unless they really were from those places. And even so, it pays to note that these terms, over the generations, have gained some sort of derogatory quality to them.

You could have the excuse that you grew up in the days before all schools had compulsory “racial harmony” days where every kid has to come in traditional ethnic costumes to better understand each other’s cultures. But it’s still up to you to go find out these things yourselves, and not wait for your platoon mate to set you right by screaming at you.

Besides, the last time I saw a Racial Harmony Day in a primary school, I saw one kid come dressed as Spider-Man.

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26 thoughts on “Deepavali: Awareness of the Inner Light”

  1. i was told by the older generation that why the indians are referred as “kek-leng kia” it’s because of the sound “kling-kling” produced by their anklets. some indians thought it as a rude nickname but the chinese have no intention of being rude at all. many of the older folks are illiterate, so i think it could be due to “market talk” (incorrect grammar, names). it’s just the same as referring caucasians as “ang moh” (red hair). the right way to call an indian in hokkien would be “in-tor-lang” literally “india people”. i came to know that we can call an indian man as “neh”. i’ve heard that it is “brother” in their language.

  2. i was told by the older generation that why the indians are referred as “kek-leng kia” it’s because of the sound “kling-kling” produced by their anklets. some indians thought it as a rude nickname but the chinese have no intention of being rude at all. many of the older folks are illiterate, so i think it could be due to “market talk” (incorrect grammar, names). it’s just the same as referring caucasians as “ang moh” (red hair). the right way to call an indian in hokkien would be “in-tor-lang” literally “india people”. i came to know that we can call an indian man as “neh”. i’ve heard that it is “brother” in their language.

  3. My niece’s a mixed between Chinese and Indian. She once told me that the older generations i.e. her paternal grandparents etc are extremely offended if we call them “keklengs”. The younger generations are quite fine with it.

  4. My niece’s a mixed between Chinese and Indian. She once told me that the older generations i.e. her paternal grandparents etc are extremely offended if we call them “keklengs”. The younger generations are quite fine with it.

  5. Thanks for the clarifications… Deepawali and Diwali…. dang… so one has gotto know if their indian colleague is from North or South India before saying anyhting. Sigh… Happy Chinese New Year is better…. not China region specific.

    I have to disagree that calling someone “Ang Moh” is akin to calling someone “Bangkalee” and “Keling kia”.
    “Ang Moh” is not region specific, just like saying Black, White, Asian,… etc… so it not the same as ….

  6. Thanks for the clarifications… Deepawali and Diwali…. dang… so one has gotto know if their indian colleague is from North or South India before saying anyhting. Sigh… Happy Chinese New Year is better…. not China region specific.

    I have to disagree that calling someone “Ang Moh” is akin to calling someone “Bangkalee” and “Keling kia”.
    “Ang Moh” is not region specific, just like saying Black, White, Asian,… etc… so it not the same as ….

  7. I utterly enjoy the cheebye motherfucker part. It reminds me of my Indian compatriots during the doggone NSF and ongoing NS times. They are farking more well versed in profanities than us Chinese, spouting lanjiaos, ganninas, nabuayjibais like flowing tap water. Of course I do try joining in, but I somehow fall short in terms of volume and fluency. Haha…so much for the depravity of vulgarity.

  8. I utterly enjoy the cheebye motherfucker part. It reminds me of my Indian compatriots during the doggone NSF and ongoing NS times. They are farking more well versed in profanities than us Chinese, spouting lanjiaos, ganninas, nabuayjibais like flowing tap water. Of course I do try joining in, but I somehow fall short in terms of volume and fluency. Haha…so much for the depravity of vulgarity.

  9. Hey! There’s something else you got wrong as a “smart” kid – Hari Raya is NOT the Malay New Year, and I doubt Deepavali is the Hindu’s New Year, either. If I’m not mistaken, there’s another celebration for that. And FYI, the Muslim New Year is called Awal Muharram.

  10. Hey! There’s something else you got wrong as a “smart” kid – Hari Raya is NOT the Malay New Year, and I doubt Deepavali is the Hindu’s New Year, either. If I’m not mistaken, there’s another celebration for that. And FYI, the Muslim New Year is called Awal Muharram.

  11. Why cant they refer anyone with their own country name??? e.g.singaporean,indian,chinese,malaysian,philipines,indonesian,american etc.

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