Diwali is here!
Wishing everyone a very Happy, Healthy and Prosperous Diwali!
It is the time to sparkle, dazzle and spread joy and light in every corner!
Diwali is the festival of lights. Literally, ‘Diwali’ or ‘Deepawali’ means ‘deep’= light; (festival) of lights= ‘deepawali’.
Spiritually speaking, the brightness of the light signifies positivity and happiness. And this festival is about creating and experiencing the warmth of the positiveness.
Mythology related to Diwali
Diwali like almost all festivals in India has a religious and mythological relevance. This festival is celebrated to commemorate the return of the great godly ruler Shri Ram and his wife Sita to Ayodhya after defeating Ravan the King of Lanka.
Light to rid the Darkness
To signify the victory of good over evil Diwali is celebrated as the festival of light and joy. Houses and work places are cleaned up and décor may be updated. Every dark corner of the house is lit up with ‘diyas’ or ‘pantis’ (clay lamps- usually lit using wick and oil) and beautiful string lights. The ‘aakash-kandil’ (meaning sky-lantern; handcrafted paper lantern) is put up at the window or door which shines bright in the night. Beautiful ‘Rangoli’ design is made at the entrance of the home and of course no celebration is complete without some shopping and delicious food specialties!
Diwali is celebrated over a period of 5-8 days of which 4-5 days are the most widely celebrated and the most important days of the festival. Beginning with ‘vasu-baras’, ‘dhan-teras’, ‘naraka chaturdashi’, ‘amavasya Lakshmi pooja’, ‘padwa’ and ‘bhai dooj’ or ‘bhau beej’.
These names each have two components- telling us the significance and the day of the lunar month. [eg- dhan teras; dhan- wealth, teras- thirteenth]
It is also the festival of lot of DIY projects! Aakash-kandils, rangoli, diya decorations, mud forts and preparing yummy special foodstuffs! (I will get to the food later.)
Aakash Kandil – Lantern
Making the aakash-kandil using craft paper, threads, sticks and lot of glue at home is such a nostalgic event! Since childhood I remember making this special lantern at home. We had this specific one which we used for many years. It was the shape of a conch shell made of thermocol and string. It was collapsible so we stored it neatly on the loft every year. But, one year in school we had to make a lantern for a Diwali project. Obviously, it turned out pretty decent (not to mention that my parents helped me, a LOT!) but I was quite proud of it. That is probably when my parents decided to hang my creation up instead of the old one for that year’s Diwali. And so the good old conch shell lantern was retired.
Diya/Panti and Rangoli
No Diwali celebration can be the same without Rangoli! It is a design made on floor or a flat surface with a white powder such as marble powder, fine flour or something like it. This design is then filled in with combinations of natural powder colours. The design itself is also called rangoli. Flowers are also often used in this design.
It is such an art – it takes patience, focus and an artistic bent of mind to create a beautiful rangoli design.
The diya or panti is basically (traditionally) a handmade oil lamp which uses oil and wick. Multiple lamps are placed in all the windows and most importantly, at the doorway of the homes, offices, etc. along with a rangoli. At dusk, when these diyas are lit, the soft golden yellow halo that spreads onto the beautiful colours of rangoli and flowers is absolutely serene.
I am a firm supporter of eco-friendly and sustainable traditional practices. Hence, always avoid non-biodegradable materials (unless it is a string of lights or something that I can’t really manufacture at home! Even then we try to buy the safest ones and use the same for years after!)
Jarring flashy plastic decorations and lanterns do not look very authentic and in fact are not very authentic to this celebration. As is important to go with natural colours for the rangoli.
We always like to stick to traditional ecologically responsible practices. Nothing beats classic in beauty and sensibility!
Buy Local and Handmade!
While DIY is very exciting, I always try to do my bit and buy from local sellers who make these lanterns and diyas at home and sell for a small income. Often they hardworking people, young school going girls and boys trying to brighten up their family’s Diwali by making a few rupees. The market streets are always dotted with these vendors who either have pop- up shops of the earthen diyas of a variety of designs or make a mobile installation of their lanterns for sale, using a criss-cross of tall bamboo shafts to carry like a flag pole, the paper tails of the aakash-kandils fluttering in the breeze.
Being eco-friendly and buying local means that we are doing our best to not harm the environment and bonus is that it saves a lot of money too!
My Home Decorations
We usually put up one big lantern at one window and several smaller ones in all the windows. Putting up the lanterns and fairy lights in the windows is a tradition very close to my heart that we undertake a few days before Diwali festival begins. Those fluttering lanterns and twinkling lights that adorn our windows look so bright, pretty and graceful!
I also love to paint the diyas at home. I buy clay lamps of various designs from the local potters and do my own little project of painting decorating them with vibrant colours.
Diwali celebrations begin with Naraka chaturdashi
Diwali is a week long festival and as I said before few days are very important. The first such day is Naraka chaturdashi.
Pahili Anghol, Abhyang Snan
At dawn on Naraka chaturdashi we have what is called as the ‘pahili anghol’ meaning first bath, or the ‘abhyanga snan’ (abhyang loosely means spa/ oil massage, snan means bath). So it translates into a full spa bath.
We wake up at dawn on this day and before taking a bath apply natural perfumed oils on our body, followed by application of ‘utna’ or ‘ubtan’ which is a natural scrub made of sandalwood powder and other ayurvedic herbs to scrub, exfoliate and condition the skin. Then, a hot bath follows. This whole ‘spa’ experience is simply heavenly and luxurious in the winter morning of Diwali.
After this ritual, we dress up in new clothes and get together for the breakfast faraal.
Diwali Faraal (Diwali Snacks and Breakfast)
Together with family and friends we share enjoy the ‘faraal’. Faraal is a grand breakfast of all the special snacks, sweets and savouries. Sometimes, it is a very potluck like setup where everyone is welcome to bring what faraal items they have prepared. Some of the most common and the biggest favourite items are a variety of ladoos, chakli, karanji or gujiya, shankarpali and chivda. Check out my family favourite Besan Ladoo recipe.
Why burst crackers on Diwali?
As tradition has it, we burst a few crackers to signify the defeat of the evil Narakasur. Also, the loud and sharp sound is said to ward off any evil.
We also prepare the rangoli design on the floor at our doorway.
In the evening we light the diyas and place them around the rangoli and in the house. With fresh flowers and the warm flickering light from the diyas the whole atmosphere becomes very cleansing beautiful.
And so begins Diwali!