Story of our Family Diwali Celebrations in the USA!
After 5 days of a fun-filled Diwali this year I thought it would be nice to share my family’s experience with you. Diwali, which translates to a row of lights, is the main Hindu festival celebrated in autumn. In Maharashtra, where I grew up, it is celebrated with a lot of enthusiasm. My love for celebrating is a result of my mom’s passion for this holiday, which I mentioned in my last post: rose coconut karanji.
Diwali signifies the victory of light over darkness, good over evil, knowledge over ignorance, and hope over despair – ideologies that are at the core of my family’s values.
Like my mom, I prepare for Diwali almost a month in advance. Making the special sweets and savories (also known as faral) used to be a daunting task when I started following mom’s recipes. However, over the years as I have learned the techniques of making each delicacy and the process has become much more enjoyable. Of course, finding time to do it all is always a challenge! There are several ‘take-out’ nights as I am busy making the treats. The end result of seeing my friends and family enjoy the special Diwali treats is very satisfying.
The first step is creating a list of faral that I plan to make. And that leads to an extensive shopping list for ingredients like sugar, butter, all purpose flour, semolina, flattened rice, nuts, saffron, fresh coconut, etc. Buying the ingredients ahead of time has saved me last minute hassle of running around. In addition to the groceries I always pick up plain as well as the beautifully decorated clay diya’s.
With my ingredients in check, I start with making a fresh batch of homemade ghee using unsalted butter. The first recipe to conquer is usually shankarparra, my children’s favorite. When my oldest son was in kindergaden, we started celebrating Diwali in his classroom. We explained the story of Diwali, his classmates painted and decorated clay diyas, and then everyone enjoyed nut free shankarparra.
This year was very special to me as it was my youngest son’s last year in elementary school. It sadly also meant that this was the last year my family would do the classroom celebration. With my son’s help we prepared the treats for his class. We did the Diwali presentation to the class and the children and the teacher had a wonderful time. They loved learning about the festival of lights and they each went home with a pretty diya.
Over the next week, I made rest of my faral and then moved on to the Diwali decorations. The boys have started to pick up on the tradition and this year they did most of the decorating. Lanterns and lights were put up. The house looked festive and was filled with the aroma of the Diwali treats!
The first day of Diwali is Dhana Trayodashi. We lit our first Diya on this day and offered whole coriander seeds and jaggery to the God. This is an auspicious day for making important purchases, especially metals like gold and silver. I used this day to polish my silverware as I prepared for the Lakshmi Pooja. On this day, breakfast was a feast of faral and a hot cup of tea.
The second day is Naraka Chaturdashi. Devotees wake up and bathe before sunrise while the stars are still visible. We did not manage to wake up that early, but we did start our day by praying together. This was a good day to gather with friends and family and share all of the sweet and savory treats we prepared. Our evening was filled with laughter, a talent show by the children, painting diyas and an elaborate meal. This year the evening ended with exchanging gifts and lighting up bright sparklers.
The third day and most important day is the Lakshmi Pooja. The day started with customary phone calls to all that are near and dear wishing them a “Happy Diwali”. I then setup an elaborate pooja to worship Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity. My younger son was very excited to help me with the rangoli that we made together in the front and back porch. It was a rainy and windy evening, so I did not get to take a photo of his first rangoli, but we will continue this new ritual of making rangolis together.
In the evening, we all dressed up in our new traditional outfits and got ready to perform the pooja. My older son performed the Devi pooja that he learned a few years back at Hindu Heritage Camp.
We offered the Goddess a traditional meal that included delicious puranpoli. The family then enjoyed an elaborate meal which was followed by lighting sparklers with friends. This has become a tradition in itself for the last few years.
The fourth day is Padwa or Bali Pratipada. It is the first day of ‘Kartik’ month in the Hindu calendar and marks the start of Hindu financial year. It is a special day for husband and wife. Another day to dress up and enjoy with more friends and family.
This year Padwa also happened to be on Halloween so I got to do Aarti for Clark Kent and Harry potter!
The last day of Diwali is Bhaubeej – a celebration of the bond between siblings. On this day I did Aarti for my two boys and prayed for their successful life.
I’m amazed to learn how every state and community in India celebrates with the own traditions. What I love is that each one of us celebrates Diwali with the same goal, to spread a little more light, happiness and peace as symbolized by this vedic prayer from the Upanishads:
Asato ma sat gamaya | (असतो मा सद्गमय ।)
Tamaso ma jyotir gamaya | (तमसो मा ज्योतिर्गमय ।)
Mṛtyor ma amṛtam gamaya | (मृत्योर्मा अमृतं गमय ।)
Om shanti shanti shantihi || (ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः ॥)
From untruth lead us to Truth.
From darkness lead us to Light.
From death lead us to Immortality.
Om Peace, Peace, Peace.
May the divine light of Diwali bring into your life peace, prosperity, happiness and good health. Happy Diwali!