DIWALI – THE FESTIVAL OF LIGHTS

 

All over the world the season of festivals is upon us and now that Dussehra and Durga Puja is done and dusted, we await Diwali on the 19th in India, Halloween on the 30th, Guy Fawkes on the 5th November, Thanksgiving on the 23rd November in the USA and, of course, culminating with Christmas.  It is time for lights, gifting and food !

Unfamiliar with Diwali or Deepavali, as it is also called ? Diwali, the ‘Festival of Lights’, the biggest, brightest and noisiest of Hindu celebrations of the year for Indians across the globe!  Depending on the position of the new moon, Diwali falls on a different date in October or November every year. This year it falls on Thursday, the 19th of October.  As important as Christmas is to the Western world, Diwali is symbolic of the victory of good over evil … from the darkness into the light. With the blessings of the Goddess Laxmi and Lord Ganesha, it is an opportunity to cast out the negative and welcome in a positive and prosperous new start !

diyas

So, what is the significance of this ‘Festival of Lights’ ‘? We have to go right back to the epic ‘Ramayan’, the story of Lord Rama’s 14-year banishment to the forest, the kidnapping of his Queen, the beautiful and tragic Sita, by the demon King Ravana of Lanka and Lord Rama’s epic battle to slay the ten-headed demon and rescue his virtuous wife. When the victorious Rama returned to Ayodhya with Sita and his devoted brother Laxmana, his overjoyed subjects celebrated his return from exile by lighting thousands of glittering lamps to show Rama the way home.  Thus began the festival of Diwali. A celebration of good over evil which modern-day Indians continue to celebrate in the same spirit.

Vanarasi Diwali

Thousands of pilgrims make the journey to the holy city of Varanasi on this day to offer prayers and for a holy dip in the sacred waters of the Ganga. It is a magical sight to witness, the thousands of shimmering oil lamps floating on the river and the fragrance and scent of flowers and incense in the air make for an extraordinary experience.

Preparations for the festival start weeks ahead. Homes are renovated, painted afresh or cleaned from top to bottom, gifts selected and new clothes stitched or bought. Gold and silver bought for future wealth and prosperity.

Decorating Diyas

There can be no Diwali or Deepavali (deep means ‘light’ and avali ‘a row  of lights.’) without the lights, fireworks and food. To dispel the darkness, diyas, candles and fairy lights are strung from buildings, monuments, parks, gardens, shops. Homes are decorated with elaborate colorful Rangolis’ in vibrant pinks, reds, greens, yellows embellished with diyas and flowers. It is an electric golden evening, brilliant, colorful, noisy and flavorful.  After all it is the ‘Festival of Lights’.

Diwali sweets

Food is an intrinsic part of Diwali. It is prepared, eaten, gifted and exchanged generously with friends, family and neighbors. Diwali is unimaginable without sweets and savories.  Customarily, food for Diwali is vegetarian and, both sweet and savory, is prepared at home. During the four days of this celebration, different foods are traditionally eaten on different days. Though the list of ‘Mithai’ is endless, the most popular ones include Jalebis, the traditional Makhane ki Kheer, Badam Barfi, syrupy Gulab Jamuns, Ras Malai, Sooji Halwas, Gujias and Besan ka Laddoos.

Diwali Food

A Diwali feast would usually contain the following items on the menu (* items are from the ‘Apna Punjab’ Menu).

The cuisine is traditionally vegetarian :-

Samosas & Kachoris*  (Deep-fried turnovers stuffed with mildly spiced green peas and potatoes)

Vegetable & Paneer Pakoras*

(Assorted vegetables and home-made cheese cube fritters with a touch of cumin and other spices, deep-fried in chickpea flour batter to create delicious fritters)

SAMOSA PAKORA

Channa Masala (Gluten Free)*  (Chickpeas in a curry sauce)

Aloo subzi or Aloo Dum

Saag Paneer* (Slow-cooked spinach with fresh garlic, ginger and tomatoes, with or without cheese cubes, a vegetable favorite)

Malai Kofta* (A traditional dish of minced vegetables formed into balls and simmered in a thick rich sauce and nuts)

 

MALAI KOFTA

 Navratan Korma (Gluten Free)* (Nine vegetables simmered with exotic spices, herbs, cashews, almonds and raisins in a mild savory cream sauce)

 

Nariyal Aur Badam Wale Chawal, Pooris, Dahi Vadas

Raitas*(Freshly made yogurt blended with chopped cucumber, fresh coriander and herbs)

PYAZ RAITA

 

Ras Malai* (Cheese patties in condensed milk)

RAS MALAI

 

Kheer* (Traditional Indian rice pudding topped with almonds)

kheer

 

Badam Barfis

badam barfi

 

Gulab Jamuns

(Succulent soft cheese balls fried and dipped in our special rose flavored syrup)


gulab jamun

 

Laddoos, Jalebis

jalebi

Today, as Indians around the globe prepare to celebrate Diwali, it has become more than a Hindu festival, we celebrate it with the rest of the world.  If you are away from the sights and sounds of Diwali, light a diya, put up a string of fairy lights, prepare a Diwali sweet from your childhood memory, shut your eyes for a moment and concentrate on the spirit of joyful positivity that is Diwali.

Even today, as oceans part us from family and old friends, we wear new clothes, light sparklers in the garden and twirl them around, creating shapes and laughing like the children we used to be. After offering prayers to welcome in good fortune and prosperity in the new year, as we sit around the table and  feast on all our favorite snacks and sweets, we look at the twinkling diyas and fairy lights with a good feeling for the future. After all it’s Diwali !

From  The Team ‘Apna Punjab’ ..…. We Wish you a Very Happy and Prosperous Diwali !

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