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In A Multicultural Country, Is Deepavali A Sidebar?

In a multi-cultural and multi-racial country like Malaysia, where we have a melting pot of races and religion living together harmoniously, the tradition of giving out ang pow has trickled into other cultures as well. Now, giving out these money packets are prevalent during Hari Raya and Deepavali as well while Christmas is more on gifting presents.

by K. Vatsala Devi
is deepavali sidelined in malaysia

The tradition of giving out money packets  or ang pow is decidedly a Chinese culture- a custom where the elderly and married couples give out ang pow during Chinese New year and other auspicious occasions. Usually red in colour and decorated with lucky characters and symbols, these money packets are to bless the recipients with good luck, prosperity, and health. Now, giving out these money packets is prevalent during Hari Raya and Deepavali as the tradition has trickled into other culture where they too want to bless the recipient with well wishes and blessings, while Christmas is more on gifting presents.

Every year, banks and shopping complexes in Malaysia, come up with their own versions of money packets, which are then given to loyal customers and shoppers. Annually, as if there is an untold competition, banks and malls try to outdo their design from previous years and this works well for us, who are their customers.

Designs Differ From One Deepavali to Another

Different designs from different banks and malls means it is easier to segregate the amount for an intended recipient. Because let’s be honest here, we all practice biasness when it comes to giving out ang pows. Family members get a higher amount, relatives get a different amount, and friends and guests dropping in for ‘open house’ get a far lesser amount. And different packets just makes it easier for the giver.

I celebrate Deepavali and though I am not obliged to give out money packets, the act of taking without giving felt awkward so I started the tradition of giving out ang pow maybe 10 years ago.

Every year, I look forward to dropping in to at least three different banks to get a few packs. And on the morning of Deepavali, after prayers and the money packs have been distributed amongst my family, we would sit down for breakfast and rank these packets from the pretty ones to the not-so-pretty ones. Over the years, Maxis, Maybank, HSBC, and RHB, to name a few, have won our hearts.

So like every other year, on the eve of Deepavali, I stuck to my tradition and made way to the banks to withdraw money in certain denominations and collect the complimentary packs. Since my primary bank is CIMB that was my first stop and also the start of my frustration.

Lack Of Enthusiasm for Deepavali

After lining up and filling up the form, I headed to the counter where after a pleasant greetings and small talk, the bank officer informed me that there are NO new crisp notes and that she can try to give me as many newish looking notes as possible. No surprises there as I was given the same line last year. I acquiesced. As my transaction was nearing completion, I asked the officer for a few packs and to my utter dismay, she informs me that CIMB did not print any for this year. WOW – was all I could utter.

I left the bank pretty dejected. I then had the same encounter at Public Bank. The last bank I visited was one that I didn’t have an account with, but I wish I did as they had money packs printed for Deepavali. RHB rose to the occasion and shamed the other banks by giving equal importance to the third largest festival in Malaysia. Kudos to you, RHB and to the other banks who spared a thought for the festival and its celebrants by printing money packs.

deepavali moneypacket by RHB
The moneypacket by RHB

Don’t get me wrong. I am not turning this into a racial sentiment article. What I am trying to get across is, Deepavali is celebrated widely and grandly by the Indians, hence some thought and planning needs to be given prior to the festival by all including municipal councils, shopping malls, banks, and other industry players. Simply creating advertisements that tug at the heartstrings, (though commendable) won’t cut it.

Is Deepavali Sidelined?

A big fat yes from me. Though Indians are smallest of the three main ethnic groups, contributing only 10% to the total population in Malaysia, they still play an important role within this multi-cultural country. If indeed the Prime Minister’s Keluarga Malaysia concept where he wants to achieve harmony and prosperity for all people in the nation, then we need to be honest and admit that not much importance is given to this festival – why do I say this?

Just take a drive in PJ and you will notice decorations are scarce, and if any completely lacking in imagination. Walk around in malls and apart from the Mall’s attempt by having kolam at their centre court, you will notice some stores already putting up Christmas décor. And I don’t say this lightly, I was at Paradigm Mall and noticed one of the home furnishing stores was already selling Christmas ornaments.

While I understand this could be commercially-fueled as Christmas makes the cash register ring, I feel this action could be perceived as being insensitive. Would it be so wrong for promotions and advertisement for Christmas and year-end sale to take place from the 10th or even as early as the 5th of November 2021.

Food for thought? Perhaps next year we could take a leaf from Singapore and pay equal attention to Deepavali as well. Till then kudos to all banks and commercial entities that played a part in making this festival count

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed here are those of the author’s & does not reflect ESPC in any way.

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Kokula Kumari
Kokula Kumari
10 months ago

Very Well said 💯

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