Diwali: First-Hand Perspective

This week, Diwali begins - we spoke to our teachers about their religious, food, and family traditions. 

It is said about India that every 12km you travel the culture changes. As such the way that Diwali is celebrated across India, and within each household, slightly varies.

Why do you celebrate Diwali?

For Amrita, at its core, Diwali is a festival that ‘seeks to cast light on every facet of your home, your family, your general life, and the life of others around you’. Originally from Northern India, for the Punjabi population here, Diwali is celebrated on Amawas, the darkest night of the month. Diya are lit and the special pooja of Lakshmi (the goddess of prosperity and wellbeing) and Ganesh (god of beginnings) is performed in most homes. For the women in Amrita’s family, it is custom to wear their distinctive Chunri, a silk saree with a bandhani design, that is given at the time of marriage and worn at other special occasions, such as the first pooja following childbirth. 

For Harsh, who celebrates according to Gujarati culture and the Patel families, a series of days are observed: ‘Diwali celebrations start on Rama Ekadashi; the next day is Vagh Baras followed by Dhanteras and Kali Chaudas. The day after is the main Diwali, and the following day marks our New Year’. 

Of course, we wanted to learn more about the food that is traditionally eaten, and the culinary emphasis placed on sweet food in particular.

Food at Diwali

Jagruti makes a different sweet dish every day, ‘on the day before Diwali, I make Seero (halva), although a little more lavishly than most because I use moong dal. On the main Diwali day, I make boondi (small balls of ground flour dipped in sugar syrup), and the days after, I make meethe (sweet rice). A lot of these products keep well, up to a whole month. I'll be teaching some of these for you'. For Amrita, Harsh and Mina there’s a lot of ghugara involved, also known as gujas, which are stuffed dumplings filled with mawa and then deep-fried. Savoury speaking, Harsh also makes puris, a fried flat bread, which he serves alongside potato and vegetable dishes.

This year's celebrations

Historically, Diwali is a big family affair, an occasion for everybody to be together. As such kinds of reunions won’t be possible this year, we asked our teachers of their alternative arrangements, which involve everything from doorstep deliveries for their kids, to zoom parties, sitting around the dining table, and importantly, celebrating with you, teaching their favourite dishes.

What are your childhood memories of Diwali back home?

Harsh: ‘I have vivid memories of returning from boarding school in India to my grandmother cooking, and all the women from the neighbourhood coming to help. The house would be full of nasto (snacks), something called suvari, which is like a sweet cracker and magas, a dessert made from gram flour. As a child you love the fireworks. We would start the fireworks in the afternoon and work our way into the evening, my father used to buy so many’. Harsh will be teaching some of these childhood dishes on Sat 14th.

Mina: ‘I loved dressing up, and then also the act of going around to visit all your relatives. You would take little presents or parcels of what you had cooked and then they’d give you something. There was a lot of exchange. My dad was also a chef, and was often invited to go and make sweets at certain restaurants around Nairobi. He was famous for his jalebis (dough fried in a coil shaped and dipped in sugar syrup) which he served to customers hot. Mina will be teaching her Kachori, one of her favorite savoury snacks on Sunday 15th.

Jagruti: ‘I loved wearing new clothes. In India, it was different from here, or what it is now. It wasn’t common to go and buy new clothes whenever you felt like it, so Diwali was this very special occasion where you could go and pick something out. The best thing was, we used to get a little envelope containing 10 rupees. Although it’s the monetary equivalent to 10p, it felt like being given £100. We used to jump with joy even with that small amount of money and make plans of what to buy. We would find happiness in every little thing’.

We're bringing Diwali online. We're continuing to celebrate community and culture, bringing joy to your houses through our live classes. You can learn traditional dishes and celebrate Diwali with our teachers here.

Written by Ines Cross & Harish Malhi

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