India is the land of festivals. Deepawali or Diwali (meaning 'an array of lamps') is the
Festival of Light and is celebrated with fervour and gaiety throughout the country to ward
off the darkness and welcome light into everyone's lives. A four-day celebration marks the
festival, the first day of which, 'Naraka Chaturdasi' commemorates the vanquishing of the
immensely powerful demon Naraka by Lord Krishna and his wife Satyabhama.
The second day is 'Amavasya' when prayers are offered to the goddess of
prosperity, Lakshmi (Lakshmi Puja), for it is believed that on this day Lakshmi is in her
most benevolent mood and is ready to fulfill the wishes of her devotees. Indians queue up
for hours to pay homage at the Lakshmi temples on Amavasya. The third day is 'Kartika
Shudda Padyami' but is of comparatively minor relevance.
The fourth day is referred to as 'Yama Dvitiya' and on this day brothers are
invited to their sisters' homes. In north India it is also celebrated as the return of
Rama from 14 years in exile after killing the wicked King Ravan. To commemorate his return
to his homeland, Ayodhya, his subjects illuminated the kingdom & burst crackers. For
the Rajasthani business communities, Diwali marks the beginning of the new financial year.
The city streets are festooned with tinsel and fairy lights, and excitement fills the air.
At a metaphysical level, Diwali signifies the victory of Good over Evil, whilst at the
material level it means different things to different people. It usually means a bonus for
staff, a busy time for merchants and fun time for children. People of all ages participate
in the festivities to give expression to their happiness by lighting earthen oil lamps
(diyas), decorating their houses, bursting firecrackers & inviting relatives &
friends to their homes for the partaking of a feast. Sweetmeats are presented to all
guests, and are often given out to customers in the shops. The lighting of lamps is a way
of paying obeisance to God for the attainment of health, wealth, knowledge and peace.
This is the one time in the whole year that children volunteer to leave their beds long
before daybreak. The day starts with a traditional oil bath at 3 am before they emerge,
scrubbed clean & dressed in their best. Festivities commence with the lighting up
little oil lamps & candles, which is followed by setting off crackers and sparklers.
For boys, competition is stiff to see who can set off the noisiest & greatest number
of crackers. As for the girls, well they just want to look their prettiest. Adults are the
souls of generosity, and it's rare to hear a harsh word of reproach except a warning to
steer clear of the crackers. Here are two popular recipes associated with Diwali.
Royal Vermicelli Kheer
Vermicelli ½ cup (thin variety) * Milk 4 cups * Sugar ½ cup * Cream ¼ cup * Ghee 4
tablespoons * Almonds 2 tablespoons Cinnamon powder 1 level teaspoon * Bananas 3 (small)
Method: Fry the vermicelli in 2 tablespoons of ghee until light gold.
Leave until cold. Skin almonds & chop them into small pieces. Fry in 2 tablespoons of
ghee until well roasted. Boil the milk & add the vermicelli and keep on stirring over
low heat until the vermicelli is just cooked and the milk is thick. (Do not overcook the
vermicelli). Reduce heat and add sugar little by little, stirring all the time until the
sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat, and when cold, mix in the cream, almonds, cinnamon
powder and chopped bananas. Serve chilled.
Carrots ½ kg * Milk 1 litre * Cardamoms 5 * Sugar 250g * Dried melon seeds 1 tablespoon *
Ghee 2 tablespoons * Cashew nuts 100g * Almonds - a few
Method: Scrap & grate the carrots. Bring milk to the boil in a
heavy-bottomed pan. Add grated carrots. Cook on medium heat stirring occasionally without
closing the lid until the mixture is fairly dry (about 30-40 minutes). Add sugar, crushed
cardamom and the melon seeds. Mix well until everything becomes semi-solid. Then add ghee
and fry well by adding the nuts cashew nuts and almonds. Serve cold.