Diwali: The Festival of Lights

Diwali in India is a blast…literally. It is five days of fun, frolic and feasting……oooh yeah, the feasting!!

Diwali gets it’s name from Deepavali which is sanskrit for ‘a row of lamps’. The lamps were a symbol of light that banishes the darkness the same way as good virtues triumph over evil designs.

Diwali does not visit us on the same day every year – the Indian penchant of following lunar months with solar sidereal years has something to do with that. Although the dates do fall between October and November each year, sometimes the moon acts a bit funny and makes all our calculations wonky.

Anyways, I am sure that you are not reading this post to learn more about Indian astronomy skills. Diwali is celebrated by several communities in India, all for reasons specific to them.

The Hindus (specifically from the states of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh) celebrate the return of Lord Rama along with his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana to Ayodhya as king after being exiled for fourteen years and vanquishing the demon Ravana. The night of their return was a dark moonless night and the citizens lit earthen lamps that were fuelled with fragrant ghee and perfumed oils to welcome their long exiled king.

The Sikhs also celebrate the day as Bundhi Chhor Diwasor the day of the release of the captives. It marks the triumphant return of the Sikh Guru, Har Gobind Singhji to Amritsar after successfully rescuing fifty-two Hindu kings who were imprisoned in the Gwalior fort by the Emperor Jahangir.

The Jains prefer to observe this day as the day of attainment of Moksha (salvation) or nirvana (enlightenment) by Mahavira in 527 AD.

All in all, it is a massive celebration that is now celebrated by people of all faiths and it definitely must be big…how else would we get the party to last five days?

Women decorate their houses with Rangoli. It is an art form where vegetable dyes, powdered rice and coloured sprinkles are used to create free form designs that decorate the entrances to the home. The peacock seen above was created by the lovely ladies at Citrus Hotels who went several steps out of the box and mixed the coloured powders with rough sea salt this lending an extraordinary grainy, luminescent finish to the entire art work.

While the women sweat it out over the floors sprinkling the powders and their concoctions into masterpieces that are soon to be swept away, the men busy themselves in idle gossip, a bit of preening and if the situation permits it, a bit of ogling as well.

The procession of sweets and savoury bites then commence. We love our sugar….and oils…and fats…and calories and Diwali just does not disappoint.Gujiyas, samosas, burfis, pedas, payesh….and you will find recipes to most of them and their variants inside the ‘All India Vegetarian Cookbook’ (and the link is at the bottom of the page if you haven’t bought a copy as yet)

On the first day of Diwali, the celebrations are for Naraka Chaturdashi or the defeat of the demon Naraka by Lord Krishna and his wife Satyabhama. The second day of the celebrations is known as Dhan Teras and is the day set aside to appease Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. The day is considered as auspicious for the purchase of gold and cooking implements (enter the chef, we try and weave all festivals around us).

The third day of course is the big badda boom celebration of Diwali itself. Lamps, lights, fireworks….food, food, sweets, party, celebrate, eat, eat more, collapse in a diabetes induced epileptic fit, get rushed to hospital, recover to eat some more are all the buzzwords reserved for the day.

The fourth day is celebrated asGovardhan Puja which marks the triumph of Lord Krishna over Lord Indra the deity of thunder, lightning and rain.

The fifth day is known as Bhai Dooj and it is the day that brothers and sisters reaffirm their love for each other and promise mutual support and protection.

Days six, seven and eight are reserved for recovery, mile long jungle hikes and several laps in the pool to return to the pre-Diwali shape.

The best part is that the fun of Diwali is contagious. This year, Julia Roberts (who has rather recently discovered her inner leanings towards Hinduism) has come out in support of the festival and has said that the world needs to join in the celebrations.

In case you are interested, Diwali 2011 falls on 26th October…provided the moon does not act funny.

Buy Zubin’s All-India Vegetarian Cookbook: A Subzi Sutra Containing the Secrets of India’s Vegetarian Cuisine at Amazon.