Despite the masks and social distancing, the festival is as vibrant as ever.
When I think of Deepavali, I imagine families shopping for beautiful sarees, stalls selling murukku and mithai, and crowded temples.
This year’s festival, which will begin on 14 Nov, is different.
Masks and barricades are now a common sight in Little India. But the enclave remains busy as Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains prepare for the festival.
Many come to the street stalls at Little India and Tekka Market for their weekly groceries, and with the festival approaching, crowds have doubled.
Hand sanitisers have become ubiquitous in these stalls, co-existing with carts of chilies, tomatoes, and bananas.
While tourists are absent from Serangoon Road this year, the decorations adorning its streets prove that the festival is still very much in full swing.
And at Campbell Lane, an alley is occupied by stalls selling food, traditional clothing, and kandeel.
Young girls hide behind cascading garlands as they look for the perfect lehenga.
I meet 22-year-old Kashvini Balan at the bazaar, who is shopping for clothing with her grandmother. Despite mingling with the bustling crowd in Singapore heat, it did little to dampen her excitement for Deepavali.
The teaching assistant, who works at a special needs school, said: “The bazaars are some of the best things about Deepavali.
“Of course, many things have changed with the pandemic. It’s hard for all our relatives to get together [as visitors are limited to five], and that’s frustrating.
“But I’m still grateful to be able to celebrate with my family, as Deepavali is a time of hope.”
Many other Hindus also find hope in prayer.
Despite closed gates, devotees line up outside Sri Veeramakaliamman, hands together, as they observe the masked priests make offerings to the deity, Kali, inside the temple. A few Buddhists also utter prayers to pay their respects.
Just a 10-minute walk away is the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple, one of the largest in Singapore. I was surprised to see barricades guarding its majestic gopuram, as visitors beeline to get their temperature taken before entering.
Inside, barefoot devotees light ghee candles as offering to the temple’s deity Vishnu.
Two of these devotees are Chandran, 24, and Priya Maran, 25. The couple of five years have chosen not to celebrate Deepavali this year.
“The restrictions make it difficult to celebrate the way my relatives and I usually do, so I’ve decided to wait for next year’s,” Chandran said.
“We hope things get better. It’s one of the most important days for me. The festival celebrates the triumph of good over evil.”
Despite the changes imposed by the pandemic, Deepavali still shines brightly.
The festival of lights will always be a beacon of hope, and of all things good, in time a time when we need it most.
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