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Wednesday October 30, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Wednesday October 30, 2013 MYT 7:06:50 AM
by cavina lim
Anita Sarees Centre still draws a crowd before Deepavali but owner M.P. Alagarsamy says the demand for traditional Indian clothes has dropped significantly over the years. – Photos by ZAINUDIN AHAD/The Star
Accompanying a film crew on a shoot reveals some of the traditions of the Festival of Lights.
AT a serene Hindu temple in Penang, a priest offers prayers at the altar while a devotee sits in a corner making garlands with jasmine flowers.
Over at an Indian sweet factory in George Town’s Victoria Street, workers are busy mixing flour and palm sugar to be made into traditional Indian sweets while others are frying delicacies in a hot wok in the sweltering heat.
Meanwhile, traders in Little India have their hands full as shoppers invade the popular street selling traditional Indian clothing, beauty accessories and jewellery, and Hindu prayer paraphernalia and ornaments as the countdown to the Festival of Lights on Saturday begins.
These are all scenarios that viewers can expect to see in a documentary project Petronas began this year as part of its Deepavali 2013 campaign to capture the atmosphere of Deepavali as it is celebrated around the nation.
In what has become a festive tradition in Malaysia, Petronas ads depicting unusual aspects of this country’s many festivals are something people actually look forward to.
This time, the company has embarked on a web documentary comprising four parts shot in Penang; Seremban; Parit Buntar, Perak; and Sungai Petani, Kedah – no, not your usual mainstream areas, are they? Which is, of course, typical of these Petronas campaigns!
“Deepavali celebrates the victory of light over darkness, a triumph of good over evil. With the latest series of webisodes, Petronas hopes to enhance a better understanding of the festival, and at the same time foster better relations among all Malaysians,” explains Petronas Group corporate affairs division acting head Anita Azrina Abdul Aziz.
This is the first time Petronas is producing a web series revolving around the Deepavali celebrations; each webisode will be three minutes long and will be hosted by popular Tamil radio DJ Aanantha.
This is the first time he’s done such hosting, says Aanantha, describing the experience as a journey to discover the essence of Deepavali.
“I am learning more about my culture through filming this documentary, and I hope that it will help to remind people, especially those celebrating Deepavali and younger Malaysians, of the true meaning and importance of the festival,” he says.
For Aanantha, the youngest of eight siblings, Deepavali is a celebration about togetherness with family and friends.
“I remember when I was younger, my mother would begin making the festive delicacies single-handedly. But as the kids grew older, everyone would chip in to help, and that’s basically what Deepavali means to me – being together on an auspicious day, as much as it is about the food and colourful costumes,” he says.
Cohosting the first episode of the documentary with Aanantha is Astro Vaanavil Singing Superstar 2012 champion Alinda Alphonse.
Born to a Catholic father and a Hindu mother, the classical Indian singer believes in embracing both faiths, describing her relationship with God as “a very personal one”.
“The beauty of religion is that it is so diverse, and the best thing is that my family comes together for celebrations like Christmas and Deepavali,” says Alphonse.
Reminiscing about her childhood days during Deepavali, Alphonse says she loves the rituals of the festival. “The whole family would wake up at 5am and pray together at our house altar. Then my parents would hand me and my four siblings new clothes that have been sprinkled with purifying tumeric powder.
“The best thing about Deepavali for me has always been visiting the temple after we take our oil bath. I love seeing how everyone is beautifully dressed up on that special day at the temple – there’s such a festive aura,” she says.
Now happily married, Alphonse makes it a point to return to her family’s home in Kuala Lumpur for Deepavali and her in-laws’ despite her hectic schedule.
Besides Alphonse, Aanantha will also share hosting duties with his brother and fellow DJ Ram, hip hop artist Altimet, and television host Megan Tan. They appear in different webisodes to share their various perspectives on Deepavali.
Viewers will be able to see how oil lamps are made in Parit Buntar as well as the ritual of lighting them up, and peek into the home of a family as they have a ritual oil bath.
The hosts will also be looking at how a kolam, a colourful drawing by the entrance to Hindu houses, are done and what they represent, and the preparation and significance of eating vegetarian food.
Apart from visiting temples, the hosts will also join a Penang family in their kitchen as they make their own curry powder mixes and prepare traditional sweet delicacies such as athirasam and kal urundai.
The documentary shoot also takes in the NR Sweets Factory in Lebuh Victoria and NR Sweets Restaurant and Cafe Sdn Bhd in Penang Street in Little India.
Established in 2003, NR Sweets is Penang’s most popular Indian sweets maker, manufacturing and retailing more than 40 types of Indian sweets and savouries.
Owner P. Narendren, 36, who started the business with his wife, V.K. Revathi, says all of the sweets are homemade products.
“When we came into the market, we changed the style of making Indian sweets to suit the taste buds of Malaysians – we know that Malaysians like their sweets less sugary.
Narendren notes that the most popular Indian sweets and delicacies during Deepavali are laddu (fried dhal soaked in syrup), which is the most basic type of sweet for visiting or offerings; spicy murukku; hard candies like kal urundai and chittu urundai; nei urundai (ghee ball); and athirasam, a doughnut-shaped sweet that is a must for Tamils during Deepavali and that is made with palm sugar instead of brown sugar.
“What is special about our sweets is that we use palm sugar instead of brown sugar as it is more fragrant. The other basic ingredients are ground flour, ghee, and milk, on top of the jaggery (palm sugar),” he says.
Narendren also says no Deepavali celebration is complete without platefuls of barfi (made with condensed milk), besan laddu (roasted dhal flour formed into balls) and halwa (a pudding-like confection), and that homemade sweets are the best – “They represent happiness and that life is sweet,” he explains.
At B. Mathavon Stores in Little India, M. Kanagaratnam, 63, says items such as prayer paraphernalia and light decorations, as well as oil lamps, are must-have items during Deepavali.
“As Deepavali is the Festival of Lights, light decorations and oil lamps are important items, as they are used to decorate and light up the house. All this symbolises a new beginning,” says Kanagaratnam, who started the business almost 40 years ago.
Kanagaratnam, who hails from Baling, Kedah, makes it a point to visit his hometown and pray at a temple there on Deepavali day before visiting relatives and friends.
Anita Sarees Centre owner M.P. Alagarsamy, 69, who opened his shop in Penang Street more than two decades ago, laments that the demand for traditional Indian clothes has dropped significantly throughout the years as more and more of the younger generation are opting for modern wear.
“For me, it is important that we uphold the wearing of our very own traditional costumes, as they are a big part of what makes the celebration special and colourful.
“Traditional costumes such as sarees, punjabi suits and the dhoti are important elements in Deepavali. Parents and community leaders must instill the habit of wearing these clothes and other traditions in their children from young so that they learn the values of their culture,” he adds.
Indeed, during the shoot at the temple, Malaysia Hindhudharma Mamandram committee member S.V. Manimaran expresses his concern over how many Deepavali traditions are slowly disappearing.
“There are traditions that must be retained, but I see that they are slowly dying. Important rituals like taking a proper oil bath with sesame or gingelly oil are not carried out properly anymore among the younger generation.
“And nowadays, youngsters like to enjoy themselves until the wee hours of the night on the eve of Deepavali. How to wake up at 4am for prayers the next morning?” he laments.
Meanwhile, the organisation’s deputy president, V. Nandakumar, says it is important that the essence of true Deepavali traditions be continued by generations to come.
“Today, a lot of our young people are far away from home, working or studying abroad, and they do not learn (these traditions). What our association is trying to do is to introduce these traditions to the young, as they are important and cannot be lost.
Nandakumar adds that in the spirit of Deepavali, every individual should do something to help the less fortunate.
“Maybe they can go to an old folks’ home or an orphanage to help. For the past 30 years, we have been taking care of prisons and spreading the joy of Deepavali by distributing goodie bags that we pack ourselves.
“This is in line with the meaning of the celebration, the Festival of Light, in which light can be carried symbolically into people’s lives to dispel the bad or darkness,” he says.
> The Deepavali webisodes can be viewed on Nov 12 and 15 on Petronas’ official YouTube Channel at youtube.com/user/PETRONASOfficial.
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Lifestyle, Deepavali ads, Petronas, Penang
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