Known for being a bit boisterous and rowdy, Little India has a distinct personality from the rest of Singapore. It can start to feel a few degrees hotter than the rest of the city as you dodge shoppers, temple goers, and trinket sellers on Serangoon Road. The crowds and pungent smell of flowers, curries, and frying prata excite and assault the senses. The sidewalks are taken up by racks of DVDs, cases filled with phone cards, carts selling garlands of fresh flowers, and men working at sewing machines. It's a uniquely South Asian crush of color and hum of activity. If you head there on a Sunday—the day most Indian and Bangladeshi construction workers have off—the streets might be even more crowded than usual.
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Pongal Harvest Festival
One recent night as I was walking home through Little India, I stumbled upon a Hindu harvest festival from southern India called Pongal. Running in mid-January this year, Pongal is a festival of thanksgiving for a bountiful harvest of rice and other grains, sugar cane, and tumeric.
A large crowd had gathered in front of the stage to see tonight's entertainment—the dancers, especially, were fantastic. Following the dancers came singers, no doubt performing popular duets from Tamil movies. At the opposite end of the marquis, some very pretty, dolled-up cows and baby goats were on display, and the entire side street off Serangoon Road next to the stage area was filled with vendors selling fruit, flowers, and trinkets for the festival. Some spectators had white powder (called Vibudhi) smeared on their foreheads—they'd received it in the temple as a blessing.
Happening upon festivals celebrated by Singapore's diverse population is one of the wonderful things about living here.
You can find almost anything your heart desires in Singapore, but you have to know where to look. If you want unique souvenirs, skip the megamalls and stick to street markets and specialty stores. You can bargain hunt at the Chinatown Night Market near Pagoda Street and stuff your suitcase with lacquered bowls, fancy chopsticks, and silk robes. For brightly colored porcelain vases and antiques, head to Katong, a traditional Peranakan neighborhood in the east. And if you’ve always wanted a taste of Bollywood, check out sari specialist Jinder’s on Selegie Road just south of Little India.
Diwali Decor: Kicking Off the Singapore Holiday Season
This past year, Deepavali (Diwali), the Hindu festival of lights, fell on November 3. Much like Thanksgiving in the U.S., Deepavali in Singapore kicks off the start of the multi-ethnic festival season that will continue with Christmas and Chinese New Year. Little India is draped in garlands and lights for the occasion—a family holiday that is celebrated in India with fireworks and feasting. The gold shops in Little India do a swift business during this time as people buy gifts for loved ones.
Every year a festive bazaar for the Hindu Festival of Lights—Deepavali/Diwali—sets up in Little India. Stalls selling Indian sweet meats, garlands, flowers and, like this one, statues of deities thrive as Hindu families shop in preparation of the festival day which falls in November.
Flowers are an integral part of Hindu pooja. Small flower stalls like this are found along the streets of Little India, and at this time of year just before the Hindu festival of Deepavali they do a roaring trade. This stall was redolent with the fragrance of jasmine.