If Christians have Christmas as one of their biggest and most important celebrations, the Hindus have Diwali or Deepavali (literally translates to ‘illumination’). And just like Christmas-a holiday observed all over the world even by non-Christians, Diwali is also celebrated across the globe and is becoming mainstream. Because Hinduism is the major religion in India, Diwali is often regarded as an Indian celebration.
Meaning of Diwali
Diwali takes on a different meaning to different groups of people. For some, it is to commemorate the return of Lord Rama and his wife, Sita to Ayodhya after fourteen years of exile. Rama was able to defeat Ravana, who abducted Sita and made her a prisoner in Lanka. Others take this time to celebrate Lord Krishna’s triumph against the demon Narakasura who tortured the people when he was the ruler of Pradyoshapuram. Some deities also take center stage in the festivities. Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, is believed to have incarnated and married Lord Vishnu. Thus, every year, people burn little lamps (diyas) to light her path into their homes. This is also how the celebration got its other name – Festival of Lights. In Bengal, Diwali honors Kali, the goddess who killed devils to save heaven and Earth. There are also people who celebrate Diwali as a thanksgiving for good harvest. But what is common among these various interpretations is that Diwali signifies hope, love, enlightenment, victory of good over evil, and renewal of life.
Foods During Diwali
Several days prior, the women of the household start getting ready as it is customary to prepare the foods for the festival at home. It is pretty much a get-together wherein older women whip up delicious dishes while the young learn from them and try to make some as well. This keeps the tradition alive.
Traditional vegetarian dishes such as channa (chick peas) and poori (fried soft round breads) and snacks like mathiyaa (nutty lentil flour discs) and karanji (crescent moon-shaped snack made with desiccated coconut) are often served.
But sweets, or mithai, take center stage during the festival. It is a common practice to exchange sweets with family, friends, and neighbors. The common ones are laddu, barfi, halwa, and murukku.
The typical celebration of Diwali spans five days.
The first day is called Dhanteras, which was derived from the words “Dhan” meaning wealth and “teras” meaning thirteenth. Hence, the festivities kick off on the thirteenth lunar day of Krishna Paksha in the month of Kartik based on the Hindu calendar. This usually falls around October or November in the Gregorian calendar. Believers pray to Lakshmi for wealth and prosperity and to Lord Yama, the god of death, for good health.
Some of the traditions observed during this day include:
- Buying of gold or silver ornaments and utensils for good luck
- Every corner of houses and business premises are cleaned, renovated, and decorated.
- To indicate that the arrival of the goddess of wealth is highly anticipated, entrances of houses and businesses are adorned with colorful traditional Rangoli designs. Small footprints are also drawn all over the premises using rice flour and vermilion powder.
- At night, for the whole duration of the festival, diyas made of clay are lighted to drive away negative elements and to bring about enlightenment.
- Sweets are prepared as offerings to the goddess.
The second day is called Nakar Chaturdashi or Choti Diwali. Hindus wake up very early on this day and rub themselves with oil before bathing. They then get dressed in new clothes. Sweets and other traditional delicacies are served. Fireworks and firecrackers are also lit.
The third day is the actual Diwali and is the main event. Hindus perform the ritual Lakshmi Puja for blessings. This involves reciting mantras, praying, offering of flowers and sweets, dancing, and singing. The night is capped with great food and fireworks to dispel evil forces. Tradition also has it that those who gamble on Diwali night will be prosperous.
The fourth day is called Govardhan Puja. This day is in honor of Krishna, Lord Vishnu’s incarnation. Hindus prepare a mountain of food to offer to Krishna. Love and devotion of married couples are also highlighted on this day. It is customary for husbands to give their wives a present.
The fifth day is called Bhaiduj and centers on the care that siblings have for each other. Sisters usually invite their brothers into their homes to share a meal. Brothers bring gifts for sisters. Sisters wish their brothers long life.
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Laddu: Any Indian sweet treat that is spherical. It is commonly made with chickpea flour but can be mixed with other ingredients (such as nuts, raisins, saffron, cardamom, coconut, and white poppy seeds) for a variety of flavors.
Barfi: Square- or rectangular-shaped dessert. It is usually made with thickened condensed milk, rose water, nuts, cardamom, kewra water, chocolate, and silver or gold leaf. The texture is fudgy and firm.
Halwa: Another sweet treat that comes in many flavors. The most typical is carrot halwa. This is made with grated carrots, milk, saffron, cardamom and pistachios. It can be served warm and with ice cream.
Murukku: Meaning twisted, this sweet is made from urad lentil and rice flours. Another version of this snack is called Chakri and is made from rice and chickpea flours instead. It also has cumin, turmeric, sesame and ajwain seeds, and red chilli powder.
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