Thursday, November 15, 2012

Deepavali: An American's Glimpse Into the Malaysian Celebration of Lights



May the beauty of Lakshmi cover your household with good fortune
Deepavali, the festival of lights descends upon Malaysia. Only from where I sit, there is only this melancholy stillness as I look out over the city from my window at dawn. I hear the faint chanting of prayers from the Muslim temple nearby. The sky turns from star-less black to midnight blue to yellowish violet until finally white wisps fill the light blue sky. The kind of blue that feels like the day will grow hot and friendly.

True enough, the sun shone bright up until I decided to venture out to meet friends for coffee at the mall next door. My boys and I break into a skip as sheets of rain blow in. 

Monsoon season has arrived.
 I've lost count at the number of malls that have sprung up all over Kuala Lumpur, where it boasts of having Asia's largest mall. It's a haven for Malaysians who seldom use air con at home and for the women who wear traditional Muslim headscarfs. 

I wonder what is like to have my hair covered. Is it itchy and hot? In an odd thought, I wished I were wearing one now, as I shiver from the blast of cold on my wet clothes.

Today, we stand in line for free drinks from Starbucks in honor of the holiday. We're given cups and meant to cue up in a line that eventually takes more than a half hour to retrieve our grande frozen green tea with red beans and carmel frappuccino with jelly inside. Asian desserts are incomprehensibly savory rather than sweet and usually involve some kind of gelatin or corn and beans. I generally give it a miss.

After a coffee chat with new local Malaysian Chinese friends, I buy the latest Paulo Coelho book for myself. I've been reading excerpts on line and cannot wait to get back to devour it. I sneak a peak from a random page and read:
"Love always triumphs over what we call death. That's why there's no need to grieve for our loved ones, because they continue to be loved and remain by our side. It's hard for us to accept that. If you don't believe it, then there's no point in my trying to explain." 
Feeling a far away love, a lump in my throat constricts my breathing until my son snaps me back to this present moment by shoving his book discovery in my face.

Son #1 schools me on author Rick Riordan. There are 2 new books out in 2 different series. I'm having two thoughts at once: one, this guy is making a fortune. And two: I'm hoping my son will not feel too teenager-ish tonight and let me read to him.

Son #2 wants the latest Dairy of a Wimpy Kid. Another book that has become a movie franchise. Unhappy with his choice, I feel we have enough potty humor our house without learning more from a book. Sighing, I cross my fingers in what the wimpy kid calls a "cheese touch" and hope son #2 does not want me to read it to him tonight.
Walking back slowly now that the rain has stopped, I mope. Secretly I was hoping one of my very few handful of Indian friends would invite me to their Deepavali open house. No such invitation.
My only glimpses into the holiday this year included visiting Brickfields to bargain for an Indian costume for son #2  to wear to school, walking down beautiful garland alley in Little India, and seeing beautiful kolam paintings made from grains of rice dyed in bright colors that decorate the many malls. Traditionally, the paintings are placed at the entry ways of Hindu homes and said to invoke the power of Lakshmi, goddess of wealth and prosperity.
Malaysian Hindu families prepare for Deepavali (or Diwali) by buying a new costume to wear to temple where prayers of thanks are given that good has overcome evil in everyone. Candles are lit and the house is cleaned to make Lakshmi contented. Friends are invited over to eat sweets and other goodies. Children might get extra presents, if they've been good in school. Firecrackers, lots of firecrackers will be heard tonight.

Later, the kids and I will enjoy some left over Indian food forgoing the traditional murtabak which is a pancake stuffed with minced meat and garlic and dipped in curry gravy. Too bad the only stall in walking distance is a strange little hamburger stall. 

A mamak or hawker stall decorated with plastic tables and chairs on a roadside and serves up cheap local food 24 hours a day is much more common. Perhaps I'll take the boys for roti canai, yummy Indian flatbread tomorrow, as the holidays continue for 3 more days with time to explore before returning to school.
In my own entry way is a Thai spirit house decorated with various treasures collected on our adventures: a hand carved wooden elephant, a favorite mala, a unusually large snail shell...

Today, I light a candle and add a photo of goddess Lakshmi to my alter, in hopes that her beauty will cover our household with good fortune. Whispering a prayer that the Light will lead me from the darkness and Love will always triumph over what we call death. Fully grateful knowing tomorrow I will all rise again to participate in the unfolding of a colorful first light.

As posted on Rebelle Society ~ Nov 14, 2013

*Upcoming Event: Melissa will be exploring the topics of radical acceptance, community and the depths of love & service in her upcoming Escape to Thailand Music & Yoga Retreat with Steve Gold.

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