Diwali Observances

Thursday, November 5, 2015

common practices & traditions

 

This weekend onwards listen for the fireworks - because so many Hindus will celebrate the auspicious occasion of Diwali and the Hindu New Year. Regardless of their country of origin, if they have some Hindu descent in their family lineage, they will celebrate Diwali.

 

Diwali has roots in Ramayana, an important book for Hindu’s all across the world. It is the story of triumph of good over evil, of values and virtues, it deals with the importance of family life and the dilemmas’ that any family can face – from choosing favorites, detachment, estrangement, the value of personal relationships and friendships as well as making choices in the light of a greater good. It exposes human flaws at their weakest moments but provides many lessons to those who follow it deeply. Many of these aspects of the story play out in our modern lives, and this makes the stories and lessons invaluable and relevant in the present day.

 

Diwali is a five day festival in India that follows a lunar, Vedic calendar. Due to the changing positioning of the moon and planets each year, the dates shift. This year it will go from Saturday to Friday in the USA – there are preparatory days that begin 2 days prior to Diwali, and two days post Diwali that celebrate the beginning of the Hindu New Year.

 

(This year, Waagh-baras begins on Saturday and Bhai-beej is next Friday).

 

Diwali is observed in many ways across India and in enclaves where Hindu’s celebrate the festival – but they all have a few common elements that tie all the celebrations together.

 

Lamps and Lights

 

A very important part of  the celebrations includes oil lamps and lights, votives and such. This is where the celebration gets its name ‘Festival of Lights’ – because it bears roots in the story from Ramayana, where Prince Ram returns from exile to his kingdom and claims his throne – but they had to return to their kingdom in the deep darkness of the night to not risk being discovered on the very last day of their 14 year exile. The kingdom of Ayodhya was decorated with clay lamps to light the path for the return of the rightful King – the reason why Hindu’s will light lamps during Diwali.

 

The markets are flooded with clay lamps and elaborately decorated votive holders – so when you see them around a friends’ house please know they are lit for a reason (and don’t be tempted to blow them out like a birthday candle, or stomp on them like some kids in our ‘hood did a few years ago, because they thought they were lit for Halloween).

 

Rangoli

 

Delicate and intricate patterns are drawn near the doorways throughout Diwali using different mediums to symbolize a celebration in progress – welcoming goodwill, health and prosperity to the home. There are many kinds of Rangoli – made with sand, made with flower petals, chalk, rice flour, rice paste and many more mediums. {if calling it sand art helps you remember it, that is OK, but Rangoli is not a difficult word - just say it like this Ran-goalie (like the soccer-goalie)}.

 

Now you see why calling it sand art is misleading?

 

Here is are two links to make Rangoli, from my old blogsite

 

If it stops raining long enough, there will be rangoli in my driveway. If you want to swing by and do some rangoli with us, please join us with a little warning, so I can give you a specific time. Hopefully I will be able to do a new rangoli each day. If you have pets or wandering feet, please keep them from walking all over it out of respect for the artwork, artist, as well as the sentiment that it is created for.

 

Fireworks

 

They are lit to dispel the evil, the smoke and fire scares the evil vibes away. So, there are many loud ones that deliberately make noise. The louder, the better. Some families will even light fireworks several times a day or after each prayer ceremony.

 

We would love if friends want to join us in our cul-de-sac for fireworks each night that is not raining. We will try to be mindful of sleep times of the babies who live around us, but don’t promise anything because my daughters’ after school schedule takes us well past 8.30 to return home each night. Fireworks typically happen after we do our evening pooja and eat dinner (post 9 p.m.) This is our one important celebration of the year; we would love to celebrate it with gusto.

 

Eats

 

The highlight of most people who observe Diwali is its eats – from fried concoctions, to baked and stir fried ones – you will find everything. There are traditional recipes and new creations and every family takes the time to bond with their kids over the preparation of these treats. Take the time to find out what your friends and neighbors are making – and especially if they have family recipes that make their treats unique, you will be thrilled to find a treasure trove of wonderful memories.

 

Having been swamped this year, I have yet to make anything (gasp). But, I have all the raw materials to make a few things! Thankfully Uma is home so we will have a full house for one week (yea!) If you stop by, we may offer some sweets. It is customary to offer some and for guests to try some, but warn your host if you have nut allergies – because everything will most likely have nuts in them!

 

'A Dozen ways To Celebrate' includes an entire chapter dedicated to making Diwali treats including: chiwda, masala poori, cashew & pistachio fudge and saffron shrikhand, whereas elsewhere in the book you will find recipes for sesame chikki (sesame brittle) and puffed rice chikki, as well as a for carrot halwa and bottle gourd halwa - all very popular during the celebration season.

 

Visiting

 

Another important observance during Diwali – is visiting friends and family! One seeks blessings from elders, swap out treats and recipes with friends and all in all – socialize.

 

Greeting friends with a 'Happy Diwali' often suffices during the celebration - it is the thought that counts. "Saal-Mubarak" means "Happy New Year" in Gujarati, "Deewali-chya-Shubh-Eccha" is "Best wishes for Diwali" in Marathi and "Diwali Mubarak" is another way of saying "Happy Diwali" in Hindi, with an Urdu twist. If you want to check with your friends, they may have a family greeting they use for elders - and there you will have another way to connect to them.

 

There will be Diwali pot-lucks and parties but many families who observe Diwali will go meat-free. Like Christmas, elders purchase gifts for young ones. If you want to bring gifts to friends during the festival, fruit baskets or an assortment of dried fruits and nuts is a safe bet. If you know the family well, taking treats for the kids, books, a single item of clothing or even small bills ($11) – are considered auspicious. It does not have to be big, just thoughtful.

 

For instance this is what happens in our home: my in-laws will ship out a package for us during Diwali – to include shirts for Uma, a saree for me and a silk garment for their grand-daughter. As kids, my father would purchase a saree for my mom and perhaps a small piece of jewellery and the kids got books and money, and sometimes we got new clothes. Uma is responsible for purchasing gifts for me and our daughter and we try to purchase some jewellery for the two girls. I will invariably purchase everyones' gifts and then we just swap presents after our prayers.

 

Many families will also make an attempt to visit a nearby temple on specific holy days. If you are visiting a temple during this time, please be mindful of the temple rules (attire, etc) and crowds - you don’t want to be disappointed.

 

This fabulous and beautiful celebration is inclusive, festive and filled with good wishes for all. It instills a measure of respect for traditions and elders, and a belief that good always triumphs over evil. On that note...

 

I wish everyone who celebrates Diwali a prosperous, fruitful & blessed celebration. May the lights in your home dispel the darkness and bring in love, wisdom and prosperity. May the sweets you prepare sweeten your home and life and may the savory treats bring spice and flavor to your day.  May you remain blessed with good things to eat, good things to wear and good things to read, so that you bring forth your wisdom and humanity to those around you.

 

To all those who participate in Diwali celebrations – I wish you all the blessings of the festive, holy season.

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AUTHOR

Nandita Godbole

Once a botanist & landscape architect. Now a personal chef & author, an artist, graphic designer, blogger & closeted poet. Loves freshly brewed chai, the crisp salty ocean breeze, watching monsoon rains & walking barefoot through cold mountain streams. Believes in the strength, positivity of the human spirit. Is spiritual but not a fanatic. Mom of one. Two, if she counts her husband.

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