Diwali recognizes the victory of Rama, one of Vishnu’s most revered incarnations. When he and his wife, Sita, returned after the battle with the demonic king Ravana, their kingdom welcomed them home during a moonless night with oilless lamps lining every street, entrance, and window. The sight of a single flame rising defiantly from a small unglazed oil lamp, its flame flickering in wisps of gentle night breeze, evokes warm and cardinal feelings of hope and resilience that transcend age, time, or religious beliefs.
Religions all over the world symbolically celebrate the belief in the victory of all that is good, whether it is the lighting of the menorah in Judaism, prayer candles in Catholicism, a wreath filled with candles during Advent, or the canara of Kwanzaa. For Hindus who celebrate Diwali, it comes as the illumination of the mud dias – an event that is a five-day celebration full of decadent festivities and feasts.
Diwali is the most important celebration in the Hindu religious calendar, and symbolizes the victory of goodness through light, wisdom and prosperity. It is a one-day celebration and a week-long festival. While the main day of Diwali is celebrated on a moonless night, according to the traditional lunar calendar, South Asian celebrations spread two to three days before, and may last up to five days after Diwali. Each day of Diwali honors a different aspect or narrative that is important to family traditions.
Many families observing Diwali start their preparations several weeks ahead of schedule. As the festival takes place in the fall, the dark nights are illuminated by strands of lights, oil lamps, and votives. Lanterns are hung to symbolically invite all good things and thus mark the beginning of Diwali. The festivities also extend to other parts of the home, including buying new kitchen utensils to usher in a plentiful and healthy kitchen. Mithai shops making traditional sweets abound, with everyone using their wares to complement what is being made at home.
It is important to note that Diwali rituals, festivities, and especially foods vary around the world. For example, treats made from sesame seeds are popular in parts of western India, while in some areas whole coriander seeds are ground with jaggery and used as an offering to Goddess Lakshmi for blessings of health and prosperity. Other foods include rice and sugar preparations either in the form of kheer (milk rice with sugar) or puffed rice balls made with jaggery.
In the communities that observe Govardhan Pooja, the day is celebrated with abundant offerings of food for Krishna as Annakut. Born in India, Chef Palak Patel Chattahoochee Food Works Procrastination Dash and Chattney He remembers visiting the Swaminarayan temple many times during Diwali, particularly during Anakot. As she noted in her streaming series, Diwali menu on the food webShe looks forward to receiving special gifts like fairous and kachuri that her mother still makes for the holidays, and coordinating family visits to celebrate the festive season together. Ambaji Shri Shakti Mandir from Atlanta In Lake City, Annakut offers public viewing at Govardhan Pooja, along with other events with food throughout the year.
Just like preparing for Lent, and if people haven’t already made it, families make fried foods like chukli – crispy snails out of chickpea flour; and gujiya, an empanada-like portable pastry filled with dried fruits and nuts. Chef Archna Baker, Owner Bojanik catering and Tandoori Pizza and Wing Company. Gujiya is traditionally made for Diwali at her home, he says. “Since it falls in the fall, it makes perfect sense to include dried fruits and nuts in one’s diet.”
Another family favorite is suji – a stovetop semolina that is a must for New Year’s celebrations. For Baker, most family festivities and celebrations happen in and around the home.
Across parts of southern India where other deities take precedence, there are many traditional ceremonial foods such as Murukku, the South Indian version of chakli, and teepi gavvalu.And the The flaky white jaggery husks are popular. Families also prepare ligyam, a type of digestive to help the holidays continue to enjoy Diwali. Take part in religious festivities locally in Hindu temple in Riverdale Head to their small kitchen run by volunteers for traditional meals and desserts.
In eastern India, particularly in West Bengal, the focus shifts to the celebration of Kali, with Kali Pooja coinciding with the moonless night of Diwali. Traditional foods include eating a blend of 14 greens called choddo shak – a blend of Ayurvedic herbs meant to inculcate healthy eating habits, but also to symbolically cleanse the body. This day also marks the time when the spirits of their ancestors come to visit and bless their families, just like the festivities around Dia de Muertos. The Bengali Association of Greater Atlanta It hosts a special Kali Pooja celebration every year.
Chef Mehrouan Irani, owner of the award-winning James Beard restaurant chai builder In Asheville and Decatur, they grew up in a mixed family. His father was Persian and his mother Hindu. He says that hasn’t stopped them from celebrating the festival’s broader themes.
“The house was decorated with lights and oil lamps, special treats and sweets were always there, and my favorite was Gulab Jamun,” says Irani. “during Diwali milesChai Pani puts special dishes on the menu and special desserts are prepared days in advance. Fireworks go off all evening, and all of our guests are sent home with a candy bag of homemade sweets.”
Diwali celebrations may appear as different things to different people. It may seem like it’s just about eating delicious foods or shopping for new items. But for all who celebrate, Diwali is more than just material things. It’s time spent surrounded by family weaving old traditions with new ones.
Chai Pani hosts its annual events Diwali dinner At Decatur Monday October 24th from 5pm to 10pm No reservations required.
Nandita Godpool She is a cookbook author and freelance writer who splits her time between Atlanta and Los Angeles. In her upcoming cookbook, “Masaleydaar: Classic Indian Spice Blends,” she explores the food routes of India’s diverse spice blends, and uses her bio-pottery in food photography to highlight the connections between India’s regional cuisine and its local environments.
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