If you have only heard of one Hindu festival, it’s most likely Diwali. I have dedicated this blog post entirely to Diwali-the festival of lights, and various aspects of it, food being an integral part. I hope you enjoy reading it and obtain relevance out of it. It’s a long one as I aspire to tell you not one but many things about my favorite festival. So let’s dive into it.
Diwali (or Deepawali) is celebrated in the autumn, with the dates changing each year. You can very well ask why does that happen? Because as compared to the sun-based Western calendar, Diwali dates deviate as per the Hindu calendar, which is lunar-cycle or moon-phase based. Diwali happens to be around the new moon on the 15th day of the Hindu month of Kartika. Globally, the majority of the people recognize and follow the Western calendar as a standard timeline. Thus Diwali tends to shift around each year. But it always falls during October and November.
Apart from India, Diwali is an official holiday in many other countries like Fiji, Guyana, Malaysia, Singapore, Myanmar, Mauritius, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Trinidad, and Jamaica. As an Indian living abroad, I enjoy celebrating Diwali festivities. I love attending various cultural programs organized by Indian societies and their members. It helps me teach my children about our customs and traditions besides the fun part. It helps them stay close to their roots.
What are the central beliefs associated with Diwali-the festival of lights?
Many perceive Diwali- the festival of lights: deep means “light” and avali “a row” to become “a row of lights”. The enlightening festival marks four days of celebration. And intensifies the country with its brilliance and dazzles people with its joy.
Diwali honors Lord Ram, the seventh avatar of God Vishnu. He incarnated to preserve and protect dharmic principles whenever the world faces evil, chaos, and destructive forces. God Vishnu is one of the supreme trinity deities in Hindu mythology. The day of Diwali commemorates his return along with wife Sita and younger brother Lakshman from his 14-year-long exile. Sita is the avatar of Goddess Lakshmi, who brings wealth wherever she goes. She was abducted by demon-king Ravan, however, Ram defeated him in a war that symbolizes the strength of good over evil. In joyous celebration of the return of their king, the people of Ayodhya, illuminated the kingdom with earthen diyas (oil lamps).
Many also believe that Diwali is Goddess Lakshmi’s birthday on the new moon, while some point it to be the celebration of her marriage with Lord Vishnu. Lord Ganesha—the elephant-headed God and symbol of auspiciousness and wisdom—is also worshiped in most homes on this day. And to gratify him, devotees offer him his favorite modaks and laddoos and then later distribute it as prasad.
In Bengal, the people dedicate the festival to the worship of Maa Kali, the dark goddess of strength. Bengalis, charmed with their sweets, taught the whole world how to promote brotherhood and sisterhood through Sondesh and Rasagulla. There are innumerable varieties of mithai that one can prepare out of chena. You will, too, become charmed with this ingredient to make Diwali sweets. See my other easy recipe of Vivid-Pink Rasagulla or Chum Chum in which chena is a key ingredient.
Why is Diwali so significant?
In Jainism, Diwali-the festival of lights has the added significance. It marks the great event of Lord Mahavira attaining the eternal bliss of nirvana. We all live in a world that needs peace more than ever. Buddhism and Jainism are religions that address the message of peace and love in an enlightening way. Diwali is one significant aspect of this message. Because even enemies forget the hostilities and greet each other with good wishes on this day. For instance, on the eve of Diwali, Indian forces approach the Pakistani troops and present traditional Indian sweets. It happens every year, and Pakistani soldiers return the gesture with sweets from Pakistan. Hence over time, Diwali has evolved to become a festival that celebrates peace and kindness. Kalakand or milk cake barfi is pretty standard in both the countries which natives savor with delight.
Many Hindu merchants in North India open their new account books on Diwali. The ritual signifies to pray for fortune and success for the coming year. Employers like to cheer up their employees with bonuses. It further promotes amongst us, respect for those who work for us, and administer them with care and affection. Beyond the lights, gambling, and fun, Diwali is also a time to ponder on life. One makes changes for the upcoming year.
Each of the five days of Diwali (Dhan Teras, Naraka Chaturdasi or Choti Diwali, Badi Diwali, Padwa or Govardhan Puja, and Bhaiduj) distinguishes with its inclination of rituals rooted in history and mythology.
The festival instills compassion in the hearts of people. It includes Govardhan Puja, the fourth day of Diwali when everyone serves food to the disadvantaged on an improbable scale. Conceivably we observe it as a reminder that every being regardless of religion or ethnicity must take refuge in God, just like villagers of Braj did. Lord Krishna sheltered everyone single-handedly by lifting the entire Govardhan mountain on his little finger. He did this to save them from torrential rains and provided them food in an hour of need. And that is how the tradition of donating food in large quantities began.
You will admire this avid notion of religion because it teaches us to be always optimistic and have faith that after darkness, there will be light. However, its also true that God helps those who help themselves and others too. So do your good karma (deeds), and the entire universe will vouch for you.
Diwali Mithai and traditions associated with it
Making homemade Diwali foods with passion and zeal adds a discrete component to your Diwali celebrations. Beyond an inexplicit notion of “eating Indian,” most people outside the subcontinent are novel with common Diwali foods. So what is the most famous thing to eat during the five-day festival? The instant answer is sweets. Indian sweetmeats, known as “mithai” are a cross between snack, dessert, and confectionery. If there’s one characteristic that seizes the Indian culinary psyche, it’s mithai. These are an indispensable part of this festival. People share sweets, gift it to near and dear ones, and offer it to the deities and then devour as prasad. Laddoos, gulab-jamun, emarti, barfi; you name it, and those you will find displayed in abundance at over-crowded confectionary shops.
However, I like to make some of these by myself to please my family and friends. Nothing surpasses the goodness of healthy homemade foods. Shakar Pare and Gur ki Patti are well-known sweet-salty snacks. One can find these in almost every Indian household, especially during mild winters.
For Gujaratis, Diwali-the festival of lights marks the end of the year. And so they celebrate the next day as Bestu Varas or New Year’s Day. Snack-making is very much a social activity for many Gujrati women like rolling out papads, theplas, khakra and puran pohli. The picture is rather much similar in Rajasthan, where Diwali sparkles in all its glory. If Gujratis love their dhokla and khandvi, then Rajasthanis too can’t live without their kachoris and sev bhujiya. These are not just local delicacies of the respective states, but also the pride of Indian Cuisine. Mawa Kachoris that originated in the royal land of Rajasthan called Jodhpur, is one of the best-known gourmet foods of the state. I love its rich taste, and so will you.
It’s customary to exchange extravagantly decorated boxes of mithai, dried fruit, nuts, or silver serving dishes with family and friends. You can show appreciation to your dear ones by gifting handmade Diwali savory and sweet presents, too. It makes it a tad more meaningful. Many people are vegetarian during this period, if not throughout the year. You can find some ideal dishes for appetizers and main course both, that would impress your guests in your next Diwali dinner party on my blog.
Why would you love to celebrate the festival of lights?
Diwali is a great time to get familiar with your creative side. People decorate preferred spaces with rangoli, pictures made out of colored powder, and sand usually made on the floor. Also, people lit up their homes with candles and earthen lamps both inside and out. One can bring uniqueness to decorations by giving personal aesthetic sense to rangolis and diyas. You will enjoy the idea of serving an assortment of Diwali sweets in the diya-rangoli style. See the image below. Furthermore, paper lanterns, also known as Kandeels, adds radiance to the house decor. All these formative rituals mainly come out around this time of the year.
Diwali cleaning is a noble affair. It starts with cleaning the most untouched places in your home to even yourself. You cleanse the entire house so you can welcome Goddess Lakshmi with finesse. It is a widespread belief in Hindu culture that Goddess Lakshmi stays where there is cleanliness, and so this ritual graces her presence. However, due to this cleaning spree, we find lost objects or get rid of stuff that we don’t need. It makes way for open spaces and aids in bringing more positivity in our endurance.
Also, Diwali-the festival of lights is a great time to explore the ethnic world of fashion. We ditch the Western wear for once and bring out our traditional best. Women turn to handwoven sarees or embellished lehengas and Anarkalis. Whereas men wear Sherwanis and Kurtas looking their dapper best. You will love to go further deep with Indian roots and experiment when it comes to Indian fashion and ensembles. Diwali sales and shopping go hand in hand. People wait for it all year to get hands-on exclusive offers and brand promotions during the festival season to receive the best rates. From a kitchen gadget to a pair of jeans, people indulge in substantial buying.
Gentle chill in the air is pleasingly espoused by people, especially in North India. People get ready to transition from autumn to winter when days become shorter. It is a perfect time for welcoming the evenings earlier than usual. People anticipate for the sun to set so that they can turn on the vivid lights illuminating their homes, shops, etc. That is another exciting element of this festival of lights.
The tradition of gambling on Diwali also has a legend behind it. Many believe that Goddess Parvati (goddess of divine strength and power) played dice with her husband, Lord Shiva (known as “The Destroyer” among the supreme trinity deities that includes Brahma and Vishnu). She decreed that whosoever gambled on Diwali night would prosper throughout the ensuing year. Hence, you will like to gamble during Diwali to keep your lucky stars in alliance for the entire year. Get some of the most lip-smacking recipes here that are going to be an undeniable hit in your next Diwali cards party.
Other popular Diwali celebrations across India
The best and most beautiful illuminations of Diwali are pre-eminent in Amritsar. The famous Golden Temple at Amritsar looks grandeur in the evening, with thousands of lamps lit up in glory. Diwali-the festival of lights and Baisakhi- the harvesting festival are the most important festivals for Sikhs. However, they do not worship any particular God or Goddess on this day. Instead, they celebrate Diwali to mark the release of Guru Hargobind Sahib, the sixth Guru, from prison in 1619. Jahangir, the Mughal Emperor at the time, had unjustly imprisoned him to stop his growing influence among the subjects. And so the people celebrate the success of their guru who plays an important role in shaping the foundation of their religion.
Pinni, the most renowned Punjabi delicacy, will become one of your favorites. If you are a new mum or finding a shield against the winter season, you can find comfort in pinnis. Find the ingredients and directions to make it in this post. Pindi Chole, another prominent Punjabi dish, is wholesome and mere easy to make. Combine it with puri, bhature, naan or rice to enjoy the taste and health both, especially if you are a vegetarian like me. Sarson ka saag with makke di roti, is a winter special Punjabi dish and boasts about the greatness of vast Punjabi mustard fields.
In Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, while people celebrate the day as the victory of Lord Sathyabama over Narakasura, it also marks the closing of accounts for agrarian businesses. Hence, devotees worship Goddess Lakshmi in the morning. Whereas on the Karnataka coast, many celebrate the day by worshipping the Asura king Bali who was destroyed by Vaman, an avatar of Vishnu. Part of the celebrations include farmers offering food around their paddy fields.
In Odisha, locals celebrate Diwali-the festival of lights in the same way as the rest of the world but except for one small ritual. This unique tradition associates with almighty Jagannath because many believe him to be the Supreme God. According to the saga, the day of Diwali gives recognition to ancestors and forbears of ones’ families and then paying homage to them to receive their blessings. It shows our bond with those who leave us for heavenly abode, but they still shower us with their good wishes.
According to the Hindu lunar calendar, the New Year comes with the opening month of Chaithra. And many celebrate this first day as the Gudi Padwa. It is an extraordinary day for Marathi people. The day is also well praised by the name of Ugadi in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. Gudi stands for victory and prosperity, and people rejoice to venerate the coronation of Rama, the Lord, after his exile of long fourteen years. Gudi Padwa is a sign of success and hence, the Gudi, which means the flag is being held high.
Addressing food in the context above, “Puris” alongside “Srikhand,” a chilled pudding made from hung curd, is a regional favorite. Many enjoy it as a main dish. Vegetable curries made with as many varieties of vegetables as possible adorn the tables, as this symbolizes year-round culinary riches. Also, it includes a celebration held to respect cows who many consider as a mother in the Hindu religion in every part of India.
In each legend, myth, and story of Deepawali lies the significance of the victory of good over evil. From darkness unto light—the light empowers us to commit ourselves to noble deeds and brings us closer to divinity. The immense belief in the power of virtue, harmony, and love resonates with everyone despite the differences in languages, rituals, and practices. Looking at the diverse ways in which people celebrate Diwali across India, one cannot help but applaud seeing unity in diversity. Diwali celebrates the fact of fighting injustice and the triumph of good spirit over the evil ones.
Food is such an important cultural aspect of India, where it varies passionately from north to south and east to west. Along with the splendid festivities, one can indulge in delicious traditional Diwali celebratory foods in abundance. If you are lucky enough to join the Diwali fun, you can’t and shouldn’t miss all the above-mentioned tasty eats. Now I am quite sure you will love to be a part of this festival of lights. Fragrant with sweet spices like cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, or nutmeg, Diwali sweets further bling up with saffron, rose or kewra water, and silver or gold leaf. Try as many as you can, and live sweet moments that will turn into sweet memories with all your precious ones.
HAPPY DIWALI-THE FESTIVAL OF LIGHTS AND MAY THERE BE LIGHT IN HEARTS TOO!!