Monday, 28 July 2014

Hari Raya AidilFitri 2014

Festival of Breaking of the Fast

The Festival of the Breaking of the Fast, called Hari Raya Aidilfitri, is a religious holiday celebrated by Muslims. Hari Raya literally means ‘celebration day’, and Hari Raya Aidilfitri is the day that marks the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of dawn-to-sunset fasting.

Hari Raya Aidilfitri is considered one of the two most important celebrations for Muslims, the other being Hari Raya Haji – the festival of Abraham’s sacrifice.

Hari Raya is one of the biggest holidays in Malaysia, and many Muslims (and even non-Muslims) return to their family home (balik kampong) driving or flying home for a couple of days before the day to be with their families and loved ones. There are often jams during this travelling time but these soon resolve as other travellers reach their destinations.

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Hari Raya Aidilfitri - The Joy of Fasting

After 30 days of dawn-to-dusk fasting during Ramadan, the first three days of Hari Raya Aidilfitri are celebrated on a grand scale. While Hari Raya Aidilfitri celebrations are colourful and fascinating, you should take note that the fasting month leading up to the holiday is a good time to experience the Malay culture and heritage.

For Muslims, the month of Ramadan is devoted to worship, charitable deeds and acts of compassion. To cleanse one’s body and soul, they practice fasting in physical and spiritual forms as well as charitable deeds. When the sun sets, families and friends often gather to break the fast with evening prayers and meals, and the streets of Geylang Serai and Kampong Glam come alive with performances and street bazaars. If you’re in Singapore during Ramadan, this is the best times to soak in the festivities. Head to the Malay Village in Geylang Serai or make your way to Kampong Glam, an area that was once home to Singapore’s Malay royalty. Both precincts attract Singaporeans of all races, and wherever you’re from, you’re welcome to take part in the celebrations.

Besides the glittering street light-ups and traditional decorations, you’ll find street stalls that open from early afternoon till late into the night, selling a wide variety of traditional food, fashion, textiles and handicrafts. From tailor-made traditional dresses known as ‘baju kurung’, hand-woven cushion covers to affordable Persian carpets and delightful flower arrangements, you’re bound to find a keepsake of the festivities. In Geylang Serai, you’ll also find stalls that personalise key chains and door signs for the home, all engraved and painted by hand on finely-crafted wood.

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As Hari Raya comes to an end, the majority of families will open up their houses and invite their friends and relatives to partake in a sumptuous feat, including traditional Malay dishes
One of the most anticipated dishes served during the Hair Raya festivities, and also an iconic symbol of the occasion, is the ketupat. Just take a stroll through one of the street bazaars at Geylang Serai in the evenings, and you will definitely recognise it in its signature rhombus form everywhere.

While there are a few schools of thoughts regarding the Ketupat's origins, this is my favourite: The word Ketupat is believed by some to originate from the Javanese term, ngaku lepat, which means to admit one's mistakes. The complexity of the lef weaving that wraps the ketupat is said to symbolise the mistakes and sins committed because of our human nature, and the white inner is said to represent purity and deliverance from sins after the Ramadan fast, prayer and rituals.

According to the legend, this style of rice preparation originated when seafarers going on long sea voyages needed a way to keep cooked rice from spoiling and to protect it from insects and flies.

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Hari Raya Idul Fitri in Singapore

Idul Fitri is a public holiday in the Lion City (banks and government buildings are closed for the whole week) even though resident Malay-Muslims are outnumbered by the straits Chinese majority. Not that Idul Fitri is celebrated with any less enthusiasm – if anything it is a livelier happening attended by all creeds and colors. It is also the most accessible opportunity for inquisitive visitors.

It all kicks off in the traditional Malay enclaves at Kampong Glam and Gelang Serai (check out the supersized Ramadan Bazaar) with the ‘Great Hari Raya Light Up.’ Expect twinkling lights, lanterns and deafening firecrackers.

It is well staged managed in typical Singaporean style but a great opportunity to mingle and the street snacks (glutinous sticky rice and super sweet cendol) are to die for.