Friday, 21 October 2011

The Spirit of Diwali

Diwali, is one of my favorite festivals, in fact, my most favorite. Indian mythology suggests many stories that speak of the origin of this festival, but the underlying moral of every story is always the victory of light over darkness, good over evil, knowledge over ignorance. Its the time of the year to connect (the right terminology in the cyber era!!) with all our friends and relatives...rejoice and reach out. Every street, shopping arcade, stalls, wear a festive look...candles, earthen diyas, fancy and designer diyas, paper lamps, electric lights, everything bright and shiny adorn every shop...its after all the festival of lights.... wide variety of Diwali hampers and gift parcels are all over the place. Its the gifting and splurging time of the year...after all Diwali is one of the widely celebrated festivals of India. All houses go through spring cleaning to welcome - Laksmhi - the Goddess of wealth and Prosperity. Lakshmi Pooja is performed in the evening and card parties are held in many houses. Every house is illuminated with lights...that is why it is called Diwali - "Rows of Lamps".

As kids, Diwali meant lots and lots of sweets and savories, which my mother would start preparing days in advance and by the time the D-day arrived it was time for her to make a fresh batch. Taking that tradition ahead, I love to make all my Diwali mithais at home. I am not preaching here and saying that you spend  all your time in kitchen making mithais for Diwali when the same is so readily available in innumerable shops, but Diwali is all about the sweet smell of ghee and sugar wafting through the house for days together when each batch gets consumed before the next one can make it through; the pleasure of having made something all by yourself and sharing it with friends... It reflects love and warmth that represents the very essence of any festive celebration. And spreading the same love and cheer...making it memorable for everyone around you. And so, its time to pull out those extra hours out of our hectic schedules and get that gas stove working overtime. And dont forget to share your home made goodies with your friends and see that glint in their eyes when they eat it and the satisfaction in your heart...

Fireworks have been an integral part of Diwali, though my encounters with firecrackers were limited to flower pots and sparklers, more because I was scared of crackers and the other noisy and fiery ones didn't really interest me as much as these; much to the disappointment of my father. But the neighborhood would be resplendent with the blasting noises and smoke from the firecrackers(pun intended). Know that there are more than 1000 units in Sivakasi (Small town in TamilNadu which supplies most or all of the crackers for Diwali), employing more that 40000 children in hazardous conditions all through the year to produce the amount of crackers that the whole country blows up in a couple of days during Diwali. I am not saying that we should shun away from crackers but limiting them to the bare minimum just to keep the festivities going is good idea. Or simply attend any community fire works show to get into the festive mood.

Celebrations definitely means a lot of new clothes and Diwali is the time to flaunt all your best clothes and accessories, who wouldn't want to....sigh!! And its time to deck up my house too...with diyas and rangolis made with flowers and the traditional Iyer Kolams with Rice flour and border it with the beautiful earthy red Kaavi (Geru) and decorate the rangolis all over with oil lamps of all sizes and shapes.

Down south, in TamilNadu, Diwali commemorates the victory of Lord Krishna over the demon Narakasura. Diwali starts early in the morning, before sunrise. The day before, the hearth is cleaned and decorated with traditional Kolams and getting it ready to heat up water for the auspicious oil bath. New clothes, fire crackers, sesame oil infused with pepper and beetle nut leaf, all sweets and savories, sandalwood paste and Kumkum are beautifully arranged. Oil bath is taken early in the morning, before sunrise. It is believed that River Ganga visits every house before sunrise thus facilitating the Ganga Snanam". 

For me, childhood memories of Diwali are all about early morning oil maasage and bath, new clothes, crackers, loads of sweets, visiting the temple, hot idli sambar and chutney for breakfast and a long afternoon siesta before we light diyas in the evening to welcome Goddess Lakshmi.

Wishing you all a very happy and Prosperous Diwali !!!

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