Diwali – Festival of Lights

Diwali, or Deepavali, is the Hindu Festival of Lights, celebrating the triumph of good over evil, knowledge over ignorance, and light over darkness. It  is one of the most joyful of traditional Indian religious holidays, and is warmly embraced by the Australian community each year.

The date of Diwali falls on the 15th day of Kartika, which is usually in October or November; this year, the date is the 11th of November.

Traditional diya lamp lit on colorful rangoli

What is Diwali?

Diwali is dedicated to celebrating and honouring the seventh avatar of Vishnu, King Rama-chandra, who returned to his people after fourteen years of exile during which he defeated the demon king Ravana, as told in the Ramayana. Effigies of the ten-headed demon Ravana are burned to symbolise the triumph of good over evil.The holiday also celebrates the birthday of Lakshmi, goddess of wealth and good fortune – it is believed that she walks the earth on this night and may enter a home that is pure, clean and bright.

In the run up to Diwali, a huge cleaning process takes place in homes and offices, after which decorations and lights are placed in and around the building. Puja, or prayers, are dedicated to Lakshmi and other gods in the hope that they will grant the household wealth and prosperity; this is often followed by fireworks, feasting and gift-giving.

The main two decorations for Diwali are diyas (lamps and candles) which are placed on windowsills and in doorways to invite the blessings of Lakshmi, and Rangoli, a form of folk art made on the floor from coloured rice, sand and other materials. Rangoli are thought to bring good luck to the household, but are also a beautiful form of decoration used in many Indian festivals.

Burning-Ravan-effigy

Although the main Diwali celebration is just one day, it is actually celebrated over five. On the first day, Dhanteras, all of the cleaning is done,  the Rangoli are formed and lighting is put up and around the dwelling. This is also the birthday of Lakshmi and Dhavantari, the God of Health and Healing. Lamps are burned throughout the night.

On the second day, Naraka Chaturdasi, women traditionally have Mehndi (henna) applied to their hands, families make sweets for the celebration, and there are bathing rituals.

The main festive day, Lakshmi Puja, is when the family all wear their best clothes and most lavish jewellery. Important friendships and relationships are recognised, mothers are celebrated by their family, and the night culminates in fireworks, feasting and sweets.

The next two days are about honouring specific relationships. On Balipratipada, the love and devotion between husband and wife is celebrated, often with gifts of jewellery and clothes. The last day, Bhai Dooj or Bhau-beej, is about the relationship between brothers and sisters and involves praying for good fortune for siblings.

If you’d like to join in with the Diwali celebrations this year, here are some of the delicious snacks and treats you can whip up for family and friends. Don’t forget to leave a lit candle in your windowsill!

Mullu Murukku

This simple recipe makes for an excellent snack any time of the year!

Murukku is a savoury snack popular in South India.You will need:

  • 640g of rice flour
  • 90g of roasted gram (chickpea or besan) flour
  • 3 tablespoons of hot oil
  • Water (as needed)
  • Oil for frying
  • Salt (as needed)

 

In a wide bowl, add the roasted gram flour, rice flour, butter and salt and mix all together. Add the water slowly until the mixture forms a soft and smooth dough.

Using a piping bag, pipe the dough mixture into concentric circles onto a sheet of greaseproof paper.

Heat the oil in a wok, once fully heated deep fry the murukku until they are golden brown.

Drain in a colander lined with kitchen tissue and allow to cool.

Enjoy! Store in airtight containers if you aren’t prepared to eat straight away.

 

Coconut Burfi

These sweet treats can be whipped up in no time whatsoever, but taste fantastic!

You will need:

  • 185g of grated coconut (dessicated should work fine if it is soaked in boiling water first)
  • 450g cups of sugar
  • ½ teaspoon of freshly crushed cardamom
  • ½ tablespoon of chopped cashew nuts
  • 1 teaspoon of ghee

 

Fry the chopped cashew nuts in a wok using the ghee until they turn golden brown. Then put them to one side.

Close-up of bowls of traditional Indian sweetsAdd to the wok both the coconut and the sugar, and mix well, cooking over a medium flame.

Keep stirring until the sugar melts, and you see water coming from the coconut.

When the mixture starts to come together and leave the side of the pan, press the coconut with a spatula to see if there is any water left – you want to get rid of this by continuining to cook.

Once all of the water is gone, add the cardamom powder and cashew nuts and mix well.

Pour the mixture onto a greased plate and smooth the top with a palette knife, and allow to cool for a few minutes. While still warm, cut it into your desired shape (diamonds are traditional) and then allow them to cool completely.

Once cool and dry, they’re ready to be eaten!

 

Shubh Diwali!