Diwali or Deepavali is the "Celebration of Lights" or "The Awareness of Inner Light" over 5 days by Hindus. Between the North Indian Hindus who refer it as "Diwali" and South Indian Hindus as "Deepavali", the celebration has different variations to how it is practiced, whereas Hindus outside India have cultivated their own unique practices in celebration of Diwali or Deepavali.
November 1st is Dhanteras, which most Hindus in the business communities regard it as the New Business or Financial Year. We typically start with new Books for accounting, receipts, invoices, cheque books and even cash register rolls for receipts. Historically, its our day to buy Gold and and sometimes Utensils. To bring good fortune to the Business, we typically have prayers at the business premises to welcome good fortune. Prayers are most often conducted by the office staff, and if a family business, then typically the family would join in too. For large Hindu own conglomerates, don't be surprised to find priests in attendance with the major shareholders and even directors at practicing this tradition in welcoming the auspicious year ahead. Dhanteras is considered by many Hindu communities as the First Day of Diwali/Deepavali.
In Malaysia, the Second Day of the festivities is the actual public holiday, for the majority of Malaysian Indians and in particular Hindus are from the South, and predominantly from Tamil Nadu where "This was the day on which the demon Narakasura was killed by Krishna – an incarnation of Vishnu. It signifies the victory of good over evil and light over darkness!". South Indian Hindus perform a special puja/pooja (prayer) offering Krishna/Vishnu to mark the anniversary of when He liberated the world from a Demon on this day. You will see many practice waking up in the morning to have "fragrant" oil baths and wear new clothes, and in Malaysia particularly, either attend or host an Open House where elaborate meals, sweets and hospitality is in abundance. Children light firecrackers signifying the defeat of the Demon/s, and rows of small lamps or Diyas (ghee lamps) around the house are to signify the return of Rama after 14 years in exile and his defeat of the evil Demon Ravan.
North Indian Hindus adopt some to these practices, but typically have their prayers on the Third Day of celebrations where the significance is the worship of Goddess Laxmi ~ the Goddess of Wealth, and prior to that Ganesh ~ the Remover of Obstacles. Here the Diyas represent a welcome to Prosperity and Well-Being. Since in Malaysia the Open House is on the Public Holiday, the Third Day is reserved for the immediate family and/or the extended clans for feasting and merry making ~ or a bit like Thanksgiving.
For many communities, the Third Day ends the major celebration of Diwali/Deepavali, and the following days are more low key: The Fourth Day is significant for husbands to give presents to their wives, and the Fifth Day is for sisters to host their brothers at their homes to express affection for their brothers and in turn brothers give presents to their sisters.
In Malaysia, Diwali/Deepavali is more than just a mere religious holiday, but a national holiday for all Malaysians and a reminder of the significant demographic make up of the country and of course one of the principal/founding ethnic groups to support the formation Malaya in Protected content . Malaysians take time off to either spend time with their families and/or friends or go "Balik Kampung" (visit their respective hometowns) and KL becomes rather quiet with the exodus. Most often this festival coincides with the school holidays, so many families take advantage of family time with trips to holiday destination internationally or abroad. Even in Malaysian Politics, this festivity signifies Unity amongst people/race, for if the Malaysian PM does not celebrate Diwali/Deepavali, the electorate of swing voters may not vote for his coalition back in government ;)
If you have time over this Diwali/Deepavali weekend, visit some of the Open Houses and possibly even some of the shopping malls. Look out for Rangolis/Kolams and Diyas, and don't forget to feast on curries and finish off with sweets home-made or otherwise. If you are feeling boozy, check out Kirsten (Boozy) Diwali Brunch this Sunday or maybe feast on Diwali Seafood with Clarise the night before. . . in Malaysia, our celebrations have become rather unique!
Also don't be shy to greet or wish a non-Hindu a Happy Diwali or Happy Deepavali, for the Hindus agree they do not have a monopoly of "The Triumph Celebration of Good over Evil!"... and Good Fortune and Prosperity is to be shared.
So to all InterNations...
A very Happy Diwali and a Prosperous Deepavali,
And may your homes be filled with Joy, Peace, Love and Good Fortune!
With warmest regards and best wishes,