Diwali is when good beats evil. When we expel the darkness and let in the light. When we celebrate with fireworks, friends, family, and our favorite Diwali recipes.
Indian holidays are different from American holidays in that you spend a lot of time with friends as well as your family. In the US it’s traditional to hear that someone will spending the majority of the holiday with their family. In India, we’re much more communal, which I think is fabulous because then no one is ever alone for the holidays. Growing up it was really common to have parties on Diwali. Normally, it was aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, parents’ friends, their kids, and then a few neighboring families, all getting together for Diwali. This created a really festive atmosphere and feasts of epic proportions, not to mention a never ending list of favorite Diwali recipes.
Diwali is the festival of lights, and is celebrated throughout the subcontinent. It symbolizes the spiritual victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance. And boy could we use knowledge over ignorance, especially in these rather egregiously stupid and bigoted times. It is believed that on this day Lord Ram returned to his people after 14 years of exile during which he fought and won a battle against the demons and the demon king, Ravan. To welcome the new reign the people cleaned their homes, put on their best clothes, lit the roads from the forest to the palace for Ramji, and rejoiced because it was to be a time of great love, peace, joy, and prosperity.
During Diwali the country is lit up like a gem. Temples, homes, and shops are decorated with loads of strung lights. The Diwali season starts about a week or two before Diwali itself, but depending on where you are in the country you see the preparations up to a month before. Especially at the local sweet shops!! Which is my faaavorite! There’s nothing like walking down the street and smelling all the holiday treats being made. You’d see giant woks full of bubbling oil frying fresh shakarpare. Massive caldrons of fresh kheer being made. Tray after tray of mithai. Mounds at high as your head of pakoras and of course, and my favorite, vats of fresh chai. All of those smells mingling together were to die for. The smell of fried bread, sweet rice pudding, the aromatic smells of masala chai, and fresh fried veggies, it was enough to make you hungry even if you’d just eaten. You couple that with the crisp weather and you couldn’t help but be in a more festive mood.
Diwali is considered to be an incredibly auspicious time of year. It’s when we push out the woes and welcome in new prospects, adventures, and overall prosperity. So you see a lot of people signing business deals, remodeling their homes, buying homes/cars/etc., and well, you know, taking on new things, which adds to the spirit of the season. Simply because there’s SO much going on. And don’t forget the shopping. You traditionally buy metal things as a gesture of bringing wealth to you and your home. For me that means an excuse to buy cookware and jewelry. And last but not least, you’re supposed to wear new clothes, which means a fabulous new sari for me. As I said, I love Indian holidays! They allow the consumer in me to run rampant. Last time I was in India I picked up enough saris to have a new sari for the next 8 Diwalis. I REGRET NOTHING!
On Diwali itself, you give your house a good scrub down during the day and then prep for the evening’s shenanigans. As soon as it gets dark we light lots and lots of divas (oil lamps) or candles. Dress up in our finest bib and tucker, do a short puja (prayer) ceremony for prosperity in the new year, and then on to the partying. Which means LOTS of food, liquor, and fireworks!
Partying in Punjab and Delhi means whisky, meat, snacks, and dessert. With some filler veggies and breads here and there. I go a little crazy making Diwali dinner simply because I was very lucky growing up and it was always more of a questions of where to put all the extra food than if we had enough. The lottery of birth is just that. I was blessed with silver platters being passed around to guests and gilded tables sagging under the weight of the food. Because of this, I love to cook and make holiday dinners as extra as possible. Which now begs the question of what am I making this year. Well, take a look at some of our favorite Diwali staples.