When Lauren Regan , a WRITE TRIBER from Canada asked what Diwali was all about and if anyone could write a post about how they celebrated it, I volunteered but warned her that she’d get many variations of the festival because we each of us celebrate it differently. This simple request has now turned into a celebration of sorts with Mahathi Ramya hosting a blog hop that has now turned into a Linky Party. So welcome to a new form of celebration and join in at her post:
A common question people ask when they see lights blazing in a house for no reason at all is :
“Are you celebrating Diwali?” because long before it became fashionable to save electricity lighting up the house with lights was associated with Diwali, the Festival of Lights.
My Diwali Celebrations
Diwali has always been a simple family celebration, with or without the extended family on either side of the tree but since my dad was in a government job that took us all over India and exposed us to different customs, our family developed its own way of celebrating festivals.
The bath in the dark dawn
On the first day of Diwali, at crack of dawn with our teeth chattering , my brother and I would sit stripped down to our underwear ( when we were very young that is) on low wooden stools bordered with rangoli patterns and flanked by a flickering oil lamp , waiting for our mother’s special scented oil massage. This would be followed by a scrub down with a special herbal paste of turmeric , sandalwood , chick pea flour and fresh cream and a final rinse with steaming hot water . Then dressed up in our new finery we’d sit on the table for the special breakfast.
While I was having a bath, my brother would light a string of fire crackers and I would do the same while it was his turn. I loved that bath in the darkness with just the light of an oil lamp flickering, the steam rising from the bucket of hot water and the dramatic sound of the fire crackers.
In my own home , the children resisted getting up at dawn and didn’t really care for new clothes bought specially for the occasion as by now we bought clothes all year round. I did of course keep away some clothes unused to be worn specially for Diwali but the tradition of going shopping for fabrics and deciding patterns did not exist.
Clean and well attired, we looked forward to the Diwali breakfast – a special feast of home made goodies – Ladoos ( hand rolled sweet balls) made of semolina and coconut or toasted chick pea flour. There’d be fresh coconut karanji ( stuffed deep fried pastry) crispy savoury shev , chakli and chivda and some fresh snack like pohe (beaten rice flakes). After breakfast , my brother and I would be sent off to the neighbours’ houses with a plate of goodies covered with a stiffly starched napkin and strict instructions to return soon. We came home soon enough with yummies in return or at least the promise of the plate to be returned later on the day.
While my children were little I used to make the customary sweets but with everyone becoming calorie conscious, I now just make the bare minimum as it is considered inauspicious not to light the stove on a festive day.
Similarly the exchange of goodies is more a style statement with traditional sweets being replaced by store bought stuff like baskets of fresh fruit, boxes of dry fruit, chocolates & cake delivered by emissaries like drivers and or maids.
Meals during Diwali were vegetarian with special sweets like Shreekhand or Basundi and at least one meal eaten with the extended family. It used to be leisurely affair which we all enjoyed thoroughly.
Like everything else this too has changed and I even serve non- vegetarian fare made in non traditional cuisines like Italian and Chinese. Of course my grandmother would have been horrified but I believe that festivals are meant to be enjoyed and food plays a very important part so I hope God forgives me this transgression.
The Festival of Lights
The most romantic part of this festival is the lighting of the lamps. I would accompany my mother to the bazaar and buy clay lamps by the dozen. Like the crackers we would sun them for two days and then soak them in oil so that they didn’t absorb more oil when lit. Occasionally my mother would let me colour them .
We’d roll the cotton into long thin wicks – lots of them because we’d use two at a time and light the lamps at dawn and dusk . The flame is never supposed to be snuffed out and I loved watching the flames flicker into the night, my row of lights slowly going out one by one.
On all the days of Diwali we’d be encouraged to leave every light bulb in the house switched on (including the bathroom and store room) just so that Good Luck found its way to our home.
Thankfully this is one ritual that hasn’t undergone much change. Most years I use the traditional clay lamps but occasionally I substitute them with tea lights, floating candles and traditional brass lamps.
Getting ready for Diwali
The highlight of our Diwali celebrations was getting ready for it . A week before Diwali we’d begin cleaning out cupboards and getting the clothes and goodies organised. My mother would plan menus and shop for ingredients, get simple garlands of marigold and mango leaves.
Today as I celebrate Diwali with my daughter and her daughter I wonder what traditions they will establish.
THE FIVE CELEBRATIONS OF DIWALI
Diwali is the celebration of many values. It begins with Vasu Baras or the Festival of the Cow and Calf on the 12th day of the fortnight of the waning moon of Kartik. It is said that the purest love is that of a mother and child so on this day we feed a calving cow as a recognition of this relationship between a mother and her child. I must confess that I’ve never celebrated this aspect of Diwali , never having had a cow in my backyard.
The next day is Dhantrayodashi a day for worshipping Lord Laxmi is more commonly observed among the Trading community and in my home is considered as yet another ordinary day before Diwali and at best , light an oil lamp and possibly purchase some jewellery or household gadget/pots if required.
Narak Chaturdashi and Laxmi Pujan
The demon Narkasur who terrorised all the humans was slain by the Goddess Durga on Narak Chaturdashi which is also known as Diwali , the day Lord Rama returned triumphantly to his kingdom. Welcomed by an adoring populace with lights and floral garlands festooning the entrances to their homes , decorated with rangoli designs on the floor. This is the main celebration of Diwali where the Goddess of Wealth who plays a very important role in all our lives is worshipped with a Laxmi Pujan. Since our family is not Baniya or family of traders our Puja is not a grand affair but the simple worship of a silver coin engraved with the goddess Laxmi.
The next day which is the beginning of the new month is one of the 3 1/2 auspicious days where every moment is propitious enough to begin a new venture ( without the go ahead of an astrologer and his calculations). This padva as it is called is of special significance for married couples because the wife honours her husband with a lighted lamp aarati while he gives her a gift in return. This is the day too when daughters honour their fathers and mothers honour their children. Needless to say there is an exchange of gifts. Strange as it may sound, gifts are generally cash which is kept in the tray with the lamp.
I can never understand how our Hindu calendar is calculated and sometimes Padva and Bhau Beej falls on the same day. If this is the case, the Padva celebration has to be done well before the ‘next day’ begins else you might find yourself honouring your husband as your brother because the last celebration of Diwali (Bhau Beej) honours the relationship between brothers and sisters. Traditionally the sister invites the brother to her home for a feast and honours him with the aarati of a lighted lamp. And naturally he gives her a gift.
Legend has it that Yami, the sister of Lord Yama (the god of death) started this custom.