This time of the year conjures up tons of nostalgia for me while providing me myriad opportunities to create new memories for future nostalgia! The memories are a little bit of everything, and remind me of the simple things, of the sweet and savory joys of Deepavali.
The Indian festival of lights, Diwali or Deepavali (literally meaning row of lights) is always celebrated around this time of the year, right when the weather gets cooler and the days get darker. This seems to be the perfect time to celebrate this sparkling with lights, color, love, and joy festival. Deepavali signifies the victory of good over evil, and people celebrate this victory of Rama over Ravana, of the victory of Krishna over Narakasura. You can check out other festivals of lights that are celebrated around the world in this post here.
Today’s post, if you would indulge me a bit, is a trip down nostalgia lane, and a peek into how we celebrate this beautiful festival in our homes. Note that Deepavali is celebrated all over India, and even in other nations around the world; and each community has its own traditions while having a common thread running through them all – of the victory of light over darkness.
Simple, Sweet and Savory Joys of Deepavali
Dad had wake-up duty on his chores for Diwali mornings, and he fulfilled those duties with gusto! He invariably put on the Suprabatham cassette and the immortal voice of MS would wake us up before he turned on all the lights in the house. In case you are wondering, “why the lights in the morning?”, it would be around 4 am or so. Since we had to, we grumbled a bit as we woke up while inwardly cheering up since it was Diwali after all!!
Ganga Snanam Aacha?
Then it was time for the ritual Ganga snanam. In fact, most people from my community greeted (and still do) each other with the “Ganga snanam aacha?” question rather than a happy Deepavali on the morning of!! “Ganga snanam aacha?” translates to “Did you take a bath in the river Ganga?” You see, it is believed that the pre-dawn oil bath on Deepavali is equivalent to taking a bath in the holy Ganga. And just as a dip in the holy river is believed to wash off your sins so you emerge rejuvenated from that bath, so does this bath in the inky darkness of the Diwali morning!
Well, back to the ritual itself. Still in a sleep-induced haze, and barely keeping our eyes open, we made our way to the puja room (or the room where we worshipped at home). One by one, we sat down on a low plank kept ready for the occasion, bowed our heads down, and waited! Soon enough, we felt that warm drizzle of gingelly oil that mom heated up earlier. As mom generously applied the oil and massaged our scalps, we would start dozing off. Believe me, that warm oil massage from mom’s loving hands was snooze-inducing!! But before we knew it, it was over, and mom smeared any remaining oil on our faces for good measure, and that woke us up fully.
We were then handed our new clothes, which had been neatly arranged on a plank, and blessed for the occasion with a smear of turmeric and kumkum. After we applied some more oil on our body, we took a nice warm shower, donned our new clothes, and got ready for the day.
Sparklers!!! We first!
After a cup of fresh strong filter coffee to shake out any remnants of sleep (if they stubbornly remained, for it would be around 5 am or so still), we would sneak in a couple of extra sweets mom had prepared for Diwali, and rush outside for fireworks.
Yes, at 5 am! But mindful of other neighbors who still slept on, we normally only burnt sparklers (no noise). We also had a friendly competition with other Tamil members of our neighborhood to see who lit those sparklers first!! With dad as our captain, we invariably won this “competition” each year. We tried to get as much as sparkly fun before sunrise.
Sweet and Savory
Once the sun rose, we headed back in and then right out for a quick trip to the temple. That done, we had a breakfast, along with some of the sweet and savory snacks made with love by mom over the previous days. And I have to mention the legiyam. The Deepavali legiyam or Deepavali marandu, is a must for all Tamil households. Actually, I recall that it would be the first thing we would have; right after that nice oil massage and before our showers, in fact.
The Deepavali marandu (literally translates to medicine) is a healthy concoction of ingredients soaked, ground together, and boiled down to a paste. It is basically eaten to nullify the effects of all the other sweet and savory items we gorge on during the festival. It also helps with sniffles that are characteristic of this season. In fact, this is something we can eat anytime of the year to help with digestion and other ailments. I always found it remarkable that we had this wonderful leghiyam that allowed us to indulge!
While I try to make this each Diwali, this year I am choosing to wait for the parcel my mom has lovingly packaged and mailed across to me from India with sweet and savory snacks, and of course, some Deepavali marandu too.
Some More Sweet and Savory Snacks
Did you think we were done with eating? Not at all,! While we had by now, around 9 am or so, had our baths, burst a few crackers, visited the temple, eaten a light yet hearty breakfast, and sampled all the items at home, we still had to exchange these items with others in the neighborhood. So, we helped mom prepare plates – each one filled with a generous sampling of all the snacks and sweets – and then started our visiting for the day. We normally visited our Tamil neighbors in the morning hours and the others later in the evening as they would get their Diwali celebrations on only then.
As we entered each home, we exchanged the ritual ‘Ganga snanam aacha?’ and handed over the plate with goodies. We would be invited in and given some breakfast (yes, another round, so thank you to the legiyam!) to eat. We chatted for a bit while eating, and as we left, our plate that we gave as we entered would be handed back to us – now filled up with the sweet and savory items our neighbors had made! This continued until all our visiting was done. We finally would head back home just like we left, with our plates full of wonderful goodies; just not the ones we initially left with – the goodies I mean, since the plates were still the same ones!
The Festivities Continue(d)
After a now food induced nap in the mid-afternoon, we were ready for more festivities in the evening. This time, we again burst fireworks and now the whole neighborhood joined in. Come evening, I would head out armed with a plate full of goodies at a time; each trip made to other friends and neighbors we had not gone to in the morning. I loved these trips and never considered them as chores. After all, I got extra servings of the snacks before returning home with those refilled plates from our friends!
It was Diwali after all. Which meant that there was no time for darkness; even as night settled, all the lights from the clay lamps, candles, and fireworks lit up the neighborhood, illuminated joyous faces, and dispelled the dark all around. Truly a festival of lights, of happiness, of life!
Today’s Diwali or Deepavali is different, even in India, yet at its core, it remains the same. Yes, we burn fewer fireworks, or try to focus on eco-friendly ways to celebrate this festival of lights. But we still hold its spirit true to our hearts, no matter where we are.
At our home, we try to do this with the simple things; the Ganga snanam (I am just glad the sun rises later now!); the making of sweet and savory items to enjoy and share with friends and family; wearing of new clothes; and the lighting of lamps that brighten our lives while removing ignorance and dispelling darkness.
Happy Deepavali, and thank you for granting me this indulgence down memory lane today!
And Now, the End of This Post
As always, dear reader, I welcome your thoughts on this post. Do you have any cherished traditions from your childhood that you follow and enjoy? What are your memories of this (or any other) festival, and what are the memories you are making?