Last week, my host family was kind enough to host another exchange student and one of my very good friends named Ayinde. He is another American exchange student (in the U.S., he lives in Houston as well!) in Malaysia, but he stays in Shah Alam. Because he lives with a non-Hindu family, he wanted to experience Deepavali and Indian culture for a week, and so, he came to Ipoh. Having him over for a few days was very fun, and I loved being able to show him some of my host family's culture. At the same time, he was able to give my host family the idea that Americans are very diverse, as he and I come from different cultures and have different religions.
Last Friday, my host family held a small prayer ceremony at the house. The ceremony was in honor of deceased relatives and loved ones. It was very interesting to see how my host family prayed for their relatives and remembered them after their deaths. After the prayers, we went to Little India to purchase some last-minute materials and get henna. While there, we saw fireworks and lights in celebration of Deepavali Eve. Shops were selling vibrant foods, sweets, and henna. The area was filled with people, and we saw Indians, Chinese, Malays, and even a few foreigners wanting to get a glimpse of Deepavali and Indian culture! The colorfulness and beauty of the entire setting was amazing!
A beautiful kolam (Indian design made of white paint) made by my host family's maid
Ayinde in his Indian attire
The ceremony for the deceased relatives
Ayinde with my host grandmother
A video of a type of Hindu ritual
Henna is a type of plant that makes a dye. This dye is used as a type of temporary tattoo in many places. Indians especially love to apply henna to their arms.
The next day was Deepavali day. First, we had prayers at the house for about an hour. After that, we traveled to Batu Gajah, a town on the outskirts of the other side of Ipoh. There, we went to my host mother's parents' house. We got to see a lot of relatives on my host mother's side and talk to them. They were very kind and welcomed Ayinde warmly into their house.
Prayers on the morning of Deepavali day
Then came the kids' favorite part of the celebrations: anpau! Similar to during Hari Raya, during Deepavali, all the adults hand out duit (money) in little packages called angpau to children. An angpau usually has an inscription like "Happy Deepavali" or "Selamat Hari Deepavali" and has a colorful design or image on the front of it. Each angpau contains somewhere between 3 and 10 RM (Ringgit Malaysia) and sometimes contain 20 RM or more. Apparently, there is a game among my host cousins that involves collecting as much money as possible. At the end of the day, I was surprised to see that some of my host cousins ended up with three or four times as much collected money as Ayinde and I had combined!
After a few more hours of celebration and socializing, we returned to our house to set up preparations for the open house my host family was going to have later that night. We finished the final preparations and got ready for the crowd of people that were going to visit. And sure enough, that night, the house was PACKED. There were about 20 to 30 people (at least) at the house. This was only the second time I had seen so many of my host cousins, uncles, and aunts gathered together, so it was great being able to talk with them all again. Before they all left, we lit fireworks and got to see the beautiful lights in the sky. I haven't seen fireworks in years, and since fireworks aren't allowed in many parts of the city back in the U.S., it was great being able to see them in the sky again!
On Sunday, my host family, Ayinde, and I drove south to visit a few host relatives in honor of Deepavali. First, we went to Kampar, a small town outside of Ipoh, to visit my host grandmother's younger sister's house. We ate lunch there and talked to the family until it was time to go. Then, we visited Teluk Intan, a town in southern Perak, where my host father's sister and her family live. It was a somewhat long journey, but fortunately, sleeping on the way there took care of that problem. After eating dinner and talking to my host cousins, we returned to Ipoh Sunday night, rightfully exhausted after a long weekend of celebrations.
Overall, this Deepavali was great because I got to learn so much about the Malaysian celebration of the festival! Also, I got to teach my friend about the festival and Hinduism in general. I know that this celebration was an enlightening experience for both Ayinde and me, and I know we would both agree that the week was a very exciting and celebratory one!
I know it's kind of late, but Selamat Hari Deepavali!
Ayinde and I in our Indian clothes
At Aeon Mall, they have a pretty awesome kolam!
Alabama... seems familiar... where did they get that from?
Selamat Hari Deepavali!