SPEECH BY MR THARMAN SHANMUGARATNAM, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION, AT DEEPAVALI LIGHT UP SWITCH-ON CEREMONY ON FRIDAY, 15 OCTOBER 2004, AT 7.00 PM
Mr Lim Neo Chian,
Mr V R Nathan,
Dr Uma Rajan,
Ladies and Gentlemen
1. It gives me great pleasure to join you this evening at the 2004 Deepavali Light Up Switch-on Ceremony.
2. Deepavali signifies the triumph of good over evil, light over dark. The slaying of the demon Narakasura by Lord Krishna is commonly cited as the origin of the Festival of Lights. But the values and principles that Hindus affirm when they commemorate Deepavali are of relevance to all peoples. They have much in common with the values promoted by our other religions in Singapore.
3. Further, Deepavali has become an occasion for social togertheness, both within the Hindu community and between neighbours and friends of all races and religions in Singapore. Friends from other races are often invited to the homes of Indian Singaporeans to share in the joyous atmosphere.
4. This evening’s occasion is indeed one way in which we come together as a multi-ethnic community to celebrate the Festival of Lights. During the Candle Lights Procession each year, it is not unusual to see individuals from various ethnic groups walk together in procession, bearing lights for peace and unity.
5. This is the sixth year that the Deepavali Light-Up is being held. In an effort to bring the joy of the Festival of Lights to Little India, for both Singaporeans and tourists, many new initiatives have been planned. Gracing the festivities for the first time is the colourful and vibrant “Utsav”, a street procession showcasing an array of ethnic dances and musical performances by local Indian arts groups. This is an excellent platform for our young dancers, singers and musicians to display their unique artistic talents. I applaud the Little India Shopkeepers & Heritage Association (LISHA) for making the effort to bring a novel and exciting spirit to the streets of Little India as part of the Deepavali Celebrations. I hope that with the success of this year’s ‘Little India Utsav’, other ethnic cultural groups would be spurred to participate in this event.
6. The celebrations this year do in fact include a cross cultural arts programme staged by the artistes from the Kerbau Road Arts Belt with the support of the National Arts Council and Central Singapore CDC. With a diverse range of events and activities, Deepavali at Little India has evolved from a minority ethnic celebration to a national cultural experience.
7. It is also a time, as we all know, of bustling festive bazaars, trade fairs and captivating handicraft corners. Over the years, the organisers of Deepavali Celebrations have been encouraged to bring these activities to more areas within Little India. On behalf of the organizers, I commend all the stakeholders in Little India who have supported these activities and events and look forward to their continued participation.
8. However, Deepavali is not just a time for merry-making. It is also a time for us to remember the less fortunate around us, and to bring light into their lives. Every year, organisers of the Deepavali Celebrations invite non-profit, charitable and welfare organisations like the Sri Ramakrishna Mission and the Singapore Indian Development Association to set up stalls at the festive bazaars and trade fair to raise funds and publicise their services to the Indian community. The organisers have in recent years also partnered with the National Council of Social Services to contribute towards the Festive Care & Share programme in aid of needy families.
9. The commitment of LISHA and the Hindu Endowments Board (HEB) to social causes is exemplary. They have been tireless in their efforts to help needy students. This year alone HEB distributed $220,000 through SINDA and $50,000 through the Singapore Indian Education Trust to deserving students. LISHA on its part donated more than $100,000. HEB collaborated with LISHA and various Hindu temples to raise $255,000 for the President’s Challenge 2004. LISHA’s share in this joint effort amounted to $100,000.
10. To further serve the community, HEB will be opening its second pre-school in January 2005. This institution will provide quality educational opportunities for our young children. On its part, LISHA will be offering the HEB-run Sarawathy Kindergarten’s alumni with a donation of $50,000 to fund bursaries. The amount, I am told, will be generously matched dollar for dollar by HEB.
11. I would like to congratulate LISHA and HEB for successfully organising the colourful spectrum of activities that constitute the Deepavali Celebrations. With the support of the Singapore Tourism Board and Central Singapore CDC, the vibrant splendour of Indian culture has been showcased for all to witness and enjoy.
12. I wish all Hindu Singaporeans a very Happy Deepavali.