Diwali – The festival of lights – Guest Blog by Mridula Baljekar

Mridula Baljekar has featured on this blog often, a dear friend and a Spice Sprectacular with her Indinan curry writing.  She phoned me today to wish me a happy Diwali, and I asked her what it’s all about.  See the guest blog from my Hindu Friend.  Happy Diwali.

Mridula

Diwali is the biggest and the happiest of all Hindu festivals.  Diwali takes place in the Autumn over 5 days. It is celebrated to welcome the Hindu prince Rama from 14 years of exile. Rama was the reincarnation of Hindu god Vishnu, and he was sentenced to 14 years in exile by his wicked step-mother who wanted her own son to become the king. Rama’s wife Sita did not want her husband to spend all this time in exile along and decided to accompany her husband along with Rama’s brother Laxman.

During Diwali, oil lamps are lit everywhere to welcome Rama who was supposed to have returned from exile in the evening.  That’s where the name ‘Festival of Lights’ came from.  During Diwali, the Hindus also worship Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, as she reincarnated as Rama’s wife Sita. To welcome Lakshmi, Indian homes have oil-lit lamps through to the early hours of the morning, as it is believed that Goddess Lakshmi never enters a dark home!

When Rama was in exile, the demon king Ravana abducted his wife Sita, whom Rama rescued from him.  To celebrate this victory of good over evil, people made up straw effigies of Ravana and set them off filled with firecrackers, hence the tradition of fireworks during Diwali. Before Diwali comes Dussera, which is one of the biggest festivals of India.  This marks the victory of Rama in rescuing his wife Sita.

The business community of India begins their new year on Diwali day, and gives gifts and bonuses to their employees.

Diwali is a festival when sweetmeats are the main food items.  One can end up with a multitude of sweets and sweetmeats made exclusively from coconut as it is believed to be the fruit of the gods.  Every ritual starts with a coconut which is cracked opened and placed at the altar before ceremonies begin.

Sweet puffed parathas, stuffed with coconut and spices, sweet samosas filled with coconut, pancakes filled with sweetened coconut etc. are traditional sweetmeats made during Diwali. An ancient tradition which is followed during Diwali is the exchange of sweets among families and friends.  Hindus believe that sweets represent our inner goodness and they like to spread this spirit amongst friends and relations.

Vegetarian food is the order of the day during Diwali because the Hindu religion is based on the principle of ‘Ahimsa’ (non-violence) which also means that you should not destroy another life for your own pleasure.

A salad of soaked lentils with diced cucumber, grated coconut and lemon juice, said to be the favourite of the god Rama, is also made during Diwali.  Deep-fried savoury snacks made of chickpea flour or soaked and ground lentils are among other treats enjoyed during Diwali.

Read more about Diwali and get delicious recipes from Mridula Baljekar’s World Award Winning book, Great Indian Feasts, published by John Blake.

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