“The sage awakes to light in the night of all creatures. That which the world calls day is the night of ignorance to the wise.” — Bhagavad Gita
Without a doubt, Diwali is one of India’s most popular festivals. It is most definitely mine. Signifying the triumph of light over darkness, Diwali has over the centuries become an irreplaceable part of the Indian conscience. Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs all celebrate this Festival of Lights, which marks the victory of dharma (righteousness) over adharma (evil).
Every community has its own reason to celebrate Diwali:
- The Jains believe that this was when their founder, Lord Mahavira, had achieved spiritual enlightenment.
- The sixth guru of the Sikhs, Guru Hargobind Ji, was freed from imprisonment in Gwalior Fort.
- According to stories from Northern India, Diwali celebrates the return of King Rama back to his rightful kingdom, Ayodhya.
- Southern India honors Diwali as the day Lord Krishna destroyed the demon, Narakasura.
- To the west of India, it is believed that Lord Vishnu ordered the demon king Bali to give up earth and the heavens, and rule the underworld.
Though Diwali is a major festival in India, it is also widely observed in other countries. The following nations designate Diwali as an official holiday:
- Sri Lanka
- Trinidad & Tobago
During Diwali, the streets come alive with the sounds of fireworks, though chronic air pollution has called for a ban in recent years. Outdoor lighting and colorful clay lamps create a spectacular display at night. As one strolls by different houses, stunning patterns made from colored rice or flour (known as rangoli) or plain white rice flour (known as kollum) can be seen. Diwali is celebrated for five days, with each day carrying its own traditions and meaning.
The first day of Diwali finds people cleaning their homes and preparing rangoli. The first lamps are lit in honor of the deities Lord Ganesha and Goddess Lakshmi. The day is considered especially auspicious for major investments like gold, jewelry, financial commitments, property and automobiles.
The second day marks Naraka Chaturdasi, when Lord Krishna killed the demon Narakasura and saved 16,000 princesses. Festive foods are both prepared at home and purchased from stores. It is not uncommon to find huge crowds thronging stalls or confectioners running short on supplies.
For South Indians like me, the second day is celebrated as the main Diwali. We always start off the day with an oil massage and a special scented bath. It is believed that such special herbal practices help enhance the beauty of women. Fingers crossed! 🙂
My bhog (food offering) for Diwali was simple, sattvic and homemade sans the sweets. I must confess that though I love to cook, I don’t know how to prepare a single sweet dish. The first thali (food platter) consists of (starting clockwise from bottom):
- Tomato rice made of ripe tomatoes, green chilies, curry leaves and cumin seeds.
- White Basmati Rice
- Aloo Gajar Matar ki Sabzi made of potatoes, carrots and peas cooked with Indian spices. (Added Murungai powder for a nutritional boost)
- Raita made from cucumbers, tomatoes and cilantro leaves in a chili yogurt base.
- Tadka Dal made of yellow lentils pressure cooked, and spices such as peppercorns, cinnamon sticks, cilantro leaves, turmeric powder, green chilies and cumin seeds.
The third day is celebrated as the main day of Diwali. There is great fanfare with guests and relatives, the exchange of gifts, and plenty of food. Many offices close early or give the day off to employees.
In the evening, people venerate Goddess Lakshmi, the bearer of good fortune, wealth and prosperity. Many homes (such as ours) leave their doors open as a sign of welcome to the goddess.
Also known as Annakut, many communities build a mountain of food by preparing over a hundred dishes from a variety of ingredients. This is to symbolize the lifting of Govardhana hill by Lord Krishna, to protect the cowherds and farmers from the torrential rains and floods of Lord Indra.
This thali has a variety of goodies from Saravana Bhavan. Being rich in ghee and sugar, this is definitely not for the weight conscious. In fact, Diwali has never been the best time to be on a diet. At least I wasn’t!
Below are just some of the typical sweets and savories that go into Govardhana Puja (starting clockwise from bottom):
- Rava Ladoo (sweet balls made of semolina)
- Boondi Ladoo (sweet balls made of gram flour batter) and Jalebi (deep-fried refined flour in the shape of pretzels)
- Mysore Pak (similar to fudge; made of gram flour and cardamom)
- Badusha (similar to a glazed doughnut)
- Madras Mixture (savory crispy snack made of fried peanuts, cashew nuts, curry leaves, flattened rice and lentils)
Bhai Dooj/ Vishwakarma Puja
The fifth day or Bhai Dooj highlights the beautiful relationship between brothers and sisters. Many craftsmen and traders also offer special prayers for Lord Vishwakarma, the architect of the celestials.
Darkness is always under the illusion that it can obliterate light. It makes you feel hopeless, scared and desperate. It makes you feel alone. But you are never alone because light will always prevail. There is light inside all of us which helps conquer even the darkest of nights. You will always find courage, peace and hope, no matter how dark the night. Happy Diwali!