Diwali, Festival of Lights – our India specialist Anoop recounts his family traditions
Whatever you are doing today, we would like to wish all of you a very happy Diwali! Unfortunately, this year we were not able to be in India during this incredible festival, which is the biggest in the Hindu calendar. However, we do have our India sales consultant Anoop Anantharaman in our London office and he is feeling very festive today which has brushed off on us all! We put him in the hot seat to share his stories of what he would be doing if he were at home celebrating Diwali (or Deepavali, as it is known in South India) with his family in Tamil Nadu.
Basically, Diwali is about food, lots of sweets, fireworks, and enjoying a family get-together. I’m going to tell you the south Indian way to celebrate Diwali – or the way that my family celebrates it at least!
If you have family in town everyone gets together the previous evening and goes to sleep relatively early. We would then all wake up at 3am and start to make sweets and savouries for the next day. We would also light lots of small clay lamps with a wick and oil in them and display them all along the house (this is the festival of lights, don’t forget!) and start getting ready for Puja (or Pooja). Puja is our prayers to the goddess of wealth to ensure you get rich in the year ahead. The head of the family will take a little oil in the palm of his hand and put it on the forehead of everyone else in the family. He will massage your head with oil, leave it for 10 minutes and after that you will take a shower and wash off the oil. Then you get dressed in your new clothes which have either been given the previous evening or first thing in the morning. These will be brand new but traditional clothing – for me it would be the kurta and the dhoti; for women it would be a sari (my mother always wears a sari anyway, but she would have an especially nice silk one for Diwali); and for young girls and teenagers, they would wear a salwar kameez.
At about 6:30 or 7 in the morning you pray to Lakshmi, goddess of wealth. It varies from house to house, but the really religious households will probably do the Puja for about half an hour to 45 minutes, but others will pray for about 15 minutes. And then there will be breakfast with all the family, after which you will go out and burst firecrackers again. From about 10am the visiting begins. All of your friends in the neighbourhood will come to your house or you will visit theirs. During visiting, generally everyone will exchange sweets – proper gifts are only for the family, but boxes of sweets are exchanged between neighbours. Popular sweets during Diwali are kesari which is made with semolina, sugar and ghee, and payasam, which is made with milk, rice, sugar and jaggery. Many households will make these sweets themselves at home.
Then all activity dies down for the day. Kids are out having fun with fireworks and stuff, but most people will be relaxing at home. It is not until the evening that the celebrations resume and everyone meets at a common place – which is some place in your neighbourhood, like a town hall that has been rented out for the occasion. It is common to have a catered buffet so that everyone can just enjoy the evening and eat the food, which would be vegetarian. Alternatively, some people might otherwise all have dinner in one person’s house in the neighbourhood. In north India, Diwali is also a big festival for gambling – not casino gambling but friendly card games like Poker or teen patti (or Flash in English) to bet money with your friends. This will go on late into the evening!