In November, India slowly begins to come alive with the celebration of religious tradition, family, and friends. Diwali, also known as the “Festival of Lights” is the largest Hindu festival in India. The celebration of Diwali represents “victory of good over evil”. This festival can be quite an unforgettable experience for students planning to intern in India.
The energy of Diwali can be tasted through the sweet delicacies, colorful new sarees, anarkalis, and kurtas to wear to the full social calendar of parties, vibrant splash of colored rangoli decorating the floor, and, most importantly, a chance for time well spent with those held near and dear.
Festival of Dussehara
This festival, also known as Durga Puja, kicks off Diwali celebrations and is celebrated in parks though out the cities and towns. Durga Puja is the Hindu festival celebrating the victory of Goddess Durga over the evil buffalo demon, Mahishasura. It is a worship of power of good that always reins over evil. In New Delhi, the young and old and families and couples alike arrive in traditional, western, formal, and casual dress attend the festival. Spectators crowd in grandstands or standing tightly packed next to each other. In the back of the park, large stages are set for bands, shows, and kiosks of different vendors selling trinkets and food. The focus is three fifty foot painted and decorated effigies with flashing lights and eyes. Each is a tall paper mache statue representing Rama (Savior) Ravana (Evil King), and Durga (Destroyer of Evil). The pyrotechnics are a build up to the victory of Good (Rama) through the intervention of the Creator (Durga) over Evil (Ravana).
As the intensity of fireworks, there is a blinding flash and cloud of smoke with pinwheels ablaze on Ravana. The high effigy bursts into flames to be consumed by fire. The scale and intensive has to be experienced to appreciate. Within minutes, Durga goes up in flames and eventually Rama is burned to the ground, all amid constant fireworks, smoke and flashing pyrotechnics.
A puja involves an offering or gift to a deity and the subsequent blessing of the god or individual. During Diwali, the puja ritual requests a yearly blessing from deities Lakshmi, Ganesh, and Durga.
- Step 1: Purify the house.
- Step 2: Set up the offering platform with an idol of the Gods and Goddesses.
- Step 3: Place items relating to one’s business or wealth beside the arrangement for prosperity.
- Step 4: Light the diya.
- Step 5: Recite Diwali puja mantra while offering rice and flowers.
- Step 6: Join your hands together and close your eyes.
- Step 7: Recite the Diwali puja mantra of goddess Lakshmi or chant her name and meditate for few minutes to invoke her.
- Step 8: Bathe idols, adorn with garlands, and offer sweets and coconut.
- Step 9: Perform aarti, the praise of the idol by circulating the lit diyas and cupping hands to raise smoke to one’s forehead in prayer.
Although the process is somewhat systematic, it should not take away from the powerful emotion behind the offering and intention. The spirituality of the Diwali Puja is an incredibly powerful, even as a non-Hindu spectator.
Rangoli is a decorative design made on the floors of living rooms and courtyards as a sacred welcoming area for Goddess Lakshmi. Hindus believe that the decoration keeps evil spirits away from the home and brings prosperity and peace in the life.
Rangoli designs include white stone powder, rice powder, sand, limestone powder, other natural colors, and flowers. The rangoli colors hold a great importance in the culture of India. Rangoli brightens the festival with vibrant colors supplementing the glitz and glamour of sparkling diyas and firecrackers. Nearly every household of India celebrating Diwali decorates the house with rangoli.
All Hindu households decorate with small lamps known as diyas on Diwali. Traditional diyas are made of clay and cotton wicks and lit with natural oils. The oil in the diya represents the “dirt” that humans tend to nurture while the cotton wick is symbolic of oneself. As the diya burns, it symbolizes a person’s defeat of ignorance and materialism and taking steps closer to God.
During Diwali, diyas represent giving light to the world and are the foundation of the bright and glitter of the festival. The glow of the diyas all over Hindu households truly represents the essence of the “Festival of Lights.”
On Diwali day, explosions of fireworks can be heard from miles around. Fireworks are believed to drive away evil spirits. In reality, the smoke drives away the ever-present mosquitoes in the late fall and early winter.
Diwali is a vibrant, colorful, and joyous celebration expressed through the joy of food. Traditionally, the festival calls for delicacies cooked with rich ingredients. Different meals are traditionally cooked on specific days and are often region specific.
Sagar Ratna Restaurant
On Diwali day, meals are best spent with close family and to be eaten and shared in large dishes among one another. In New Delhi, Sagar Ratna Restaurant is a popular spot for South Indian cuisine. For a traditional South Indian cuisine, the restaurant boasts mouth watering hahi vada (lentil fritter-style donut) in dahi (yogurt) topped with mint, coriander, and boondi (flour rice crispies), idli (black lentils and rice) and vada (lentil fritter-style donut) served with chutney and sambar (vegetable broth), and, last, but not least, the famous masala dosa (rice batter and black lentil pancake).
Radiant with syrup and garishly colored and overflowing with clarified butter, Indian desserts are a sweet lover’s paradise. Traditionally, various kinds of sweets, known as mithai, are offerings to Goddess Lakshmi and are now a typical gift to households during the festival season. The custom of gifting sweets reaches its peak during Diwali. Even the American based chain, Dunkin Donuts, is taking a bite out of the tradition and offers a Diwali special which includes diya shaped donuts.
Kulfi is the traditional Indian Subcontinent ice cream.
- Step 1: Remove frozen kulfi moulds (evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, heavy double cream, boiled sugar, and cornstarch-water paste) from earthenware pot (matka) filled with ice and salt.
- Step 2: Add vermicelli noodles (faloodeh).
- Step 3: Add rose syrup and enjoy!
Barfis in their simple form are solid cubes of condensed milk and sugar. Flavors vary and generally include cashew, pistachio, mango, rose water, almond, or chocolate; however, coconut is the tried and true recipe.
- Step 1: Pop cardamom seeds from the dried pods to release the scent.
- Step 2: Bring to a boil with double cream while adding sugar and milk powder until the mixture turns to custard.
- Step 3: Add the coconut and cardamom and pour mixture into a shallow dish.
- Step 4: Allow cooling, and devor!
The jalebi is another sweet Diwali treat.
- Step 1: A batter of refined flour and curd is prepped to mix with sugar syrup.
- Step 2: The batter is deep fried.
- Step 3: Enjoy a hot or cold crunchy bite of this orange, knot of sweetness.
Clean homes, open windows, and receptive souls and minds welcome the Hindu Goddess Lakshmi for a prosperous year during this colorful and sparkling time in India. Any traveler lucky enough to during the beginning of or the five day peak of Diwali season will instantly feel the a internal spark, similar to the symbolic diya lighting, to the magic of the largest Hindu festival in India.