Story of our Family Diwali Celebration 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 and my love for celebrating is a result of my mom's passion for this holiday.
What is Diwali
Diwali is the biggest Indian festival. 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.
The festival of lights, Diwali is celebrated over 5 days and it is my favorite Indian festival with many fond memories of it growing up as my mom started the preparations almost a month in advance. Homes are cleaned and decorated with lanterns and pretty clay diyas. Fresh yellow and orange marigold garlands and mango leaves hung on the doors and gorgeous rangoli was in front of the house. And the best part? A festive home filled with family, friends, and the amazing aromas of delicious sweets and savories.
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.
Tips on planning Diwali Celebrations
- Create a list of faral/sweets that you plan to make
- Make your shopping list for ingredients like sugar, butter, all-purpose flour, semolina, flattened rice, nuts, saffron, fresh coconut, etc
- Buy all the ingredients ahead of time which saves last minute hassle of running around
- In addition to the groceries pick up plain as well as the beautifully decorated clay diya and a lantern
- Buy some fresh flowers. I find trader joes usually will have marigolds around October/November
With my ingredients in check, I start with making a fresh batch of homemade ghee using unsalted butter.
Celebrating Diwali with Kids
The first recipe to conquer is usually Shakkar Para, my children's favorite. When my oldest son was in kindergarten, 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 sugar cookie-like Shankarpali.
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 the 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!
5 days of Diwali
Day 1 Dhana Trayodashi
The first day of Diwali is Dhana Trayodashi. We lit our first Diya on this day and offered whole coriander seeds and jaggery to 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.
Day 2 Naraka Chaturdashi
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.
Day 3 Lakshmi Pooja
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 set up 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 on 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 Puran Poli. 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.
Day 4 Bali Pratipada
The fourth day is Padwa or Bali Pratipada. It is the first day of 'Karthik' month in the Hindu calendar and marks the start of the 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!
Day 5 Bhai Duj
The last day of Diwali is Bhaubeej or Bhaiduj – 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 its 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!
Here are some of my favorite recipes for the Diwali Celebration:
- Besan Laddu
- Coconut Laddu
- Rose coconut karanji
- Besan Burfi
- Saranachi Puri
- Poha Chivda
- Spinach Sev
- Puran Poli