Deepavali – A festival full of sweet childhood memories, the sky full of fireworks, mouth full of sweets, house full of diyas and heart full of joy!!!!
An interesting incident recently happened, when one of my friends asked me, if Diwali is really celebrated in South India… Thanks to her , it kindled all my memories of how such elaborate celebrations happen , down South especially at my parent’s place, during my childhood!
Well, that was a little shocking question for me, to think that she didn’t know about South India, but at the same time, but it was such a sweet, genuine question too…
My friend was right about it not being celebrated as a primary festival in God’s own country, the state where I hail from . However, due to the influence of neighbouring states and the inflow of people from other South Indian states to Kerala; there is quite a good amount of festive and pompous celebrations in Kerala too… But Tamilians, Teluguites and Kannadigas do celebrate “Deepavali”, not Diwali…
Deepavali again means festival of lights and I have such lovely golden memories of this being celebrated as the primary festival at my home.
In the South , this festival often commemorates the conquering of the Asura Naraka, a powerful king who imprisoned tens of thousands of inhabitants. It is celebrated in the Tamil month of Aipasi (Thula month) as ‘Naraka Chaturdasi’ , preceding Amavasai. Some communities believe that when Narakasura was to be killed, Lord Krishna asked him his last wish. Narakasura replied that he wanted to enjoy the last day of his life in a grand manner and Deepavali was celebrated. That was the beginning and the practice continued.
For Tamilians, especially TamBrahms, Deepavali preparations begin around a week before, when the ladies starts cooking all home-made South India sweets and savories…At least 5 to 7 items need to be made, to make the Deepavali a grand one!!!
The day before, the oven is cleaned, smeared with lime, four or five kumkum dots are applied, and then it is filled with water for the next day’s oil bath. The house is washed and decorated with kolam (rangoli) patterns with kavi (red oxide).
In the puja room, betel leaves, betel nuts, plantain fruits, flowers, sandal paste, kumkum, gingely oil, turmeric powder, scented powder are kept. Crackers and new dresses are placed in a plate after smearing a little kumkum or sandal paste. The eve of Deepavali also starts with bursting of crackers for at least 2 hrs, to indicate that the festival has started.
And Deepavali celebrations begin early in the morning at 3.00 to 3.30 am. We children, our eyes half-open, would be herded into the puja room, where the eldest family member (my paternal grandmother and later on my mother) would be seated on a low stool, her sari rolled up to her knees and a bowl of warm nalla ennai or gingely oil laced with black pepper and ginger… Just when you began to feel good by the soothing massage, grand mom would gently ‘slap’ the top of your head with both hands, signalling the end of the task. The drill would continue with the next-in-line.
Then, we are off for a bath, for Ganga Snanam, beginning with the youngest in the family. Post the oil bath, the pleasure of emerging with new clothes, that was ceremoniously handed out by the elders after applying a dash of kumkum and turmeric on them, is indeed an act of blessing. And the look of anticipation at the thought of bursting crackers, Ah, my heart still can feel that undue happiness of the Deepavali mornings!!!
Oh, how can I forget the Deepavali Marunthu (Lehyam)!!! So before the bath, it is a must to eat the Lehyam (medicine) the bitter concoction, to cleanse the system of its festive over-eating!
And then at 4am in the morning, it starts by inauguration with the SaraVedi crackers, to wake up all and tell the entire neighbourhood that “Guys we have started with the crackers, Now you watch out!!” The crackers would go on till 6.30 to 7 am till the Sun God peeps out to see what’s happening…
The streets would be rolling with flower pots, sparklers, black snake, chakras and lakshmi bombs and rockets..And then there were those crazy guns which the boys loved to fire with those rolls inside it and they used to act like heroes in the movie…
This is followed by phone calls from relatives across the world, asking “Ganga Snanam aacha?” — Have you had your holy dip in the River Ganga? This customary greeting exchanged on Deepavali refers to the ceremonial oil bath that Tamilians have at the early hours of morning, on Naraka Chaturdasi.
A puja is performed for the family deities in the morning. This is followed by the most awaited Deepavali Breakfast which consists of South Indian dishes Murukku (Chakli), Thengoyal (Crispy Chakli), Thattai (Crispy snack) , Omapodi, Mysore pak , Jangri , Badushah , Thenga Barfi (Coconut Barfi), Ribbon pakoda and of course, Idli , Sambar, Chutney , Medhu Vadai… Amma, how much I miss your food !!! We used to dig on those treats and no one was stressed over extra calories back then…
During Thalai Deepavali, the newlyweds go to the bride’s parental home for revelry. Taking blessings from the elders, they burst the first crackers of the day. Usually a vast range of crackers is bought, with costs running into thousands of rupees. I still remember my sister’s Thalai Deepavali 25 years back, where we celebrated with 10000 wala Saravedi, which lasted for about 30 mins!!!!
The Diwali Celebrations include a visit to the temple, gifts of clothes and jewelry, gorging on sweets and receiving blessings of elders. The groom’s parents, brothers and sisters come down to join in the celebrations.
Puja, bursting firecrackers and eating — all these activities would be over by daybreak, which is almost by 8 to 8.30 am. The day time would go with family visits to relative’s places and exchanging Deepavali Bhakshanam (Diwali sweets and savories) , watching Sun TV programs etc…The Deepavali evening would mainly be adults lighting Diyas and again kids bursting crackers, to our hearts content… As most of the cracker manufacturing units are in Tamil Nadu, there is no dearth of fireworks anywhere in South India!!!
After marriage and over the last years with my family , in various cities that we have lived, Diwali has definitely transformed…Now in Pune, I try to retain the spirit of Deepavali to the best of what can be done. The house is cleaned thoroughly, lit with diyas in the balcony and open areas in my apartment.
Definitely, there is an influence of the state, where I have started illuminating my house with serial lights and Diwali lanterns in the balcony. The sounds of crackers are very less, because of living in top floors of huge societies and an allotted place being there for bursting crackers near the main gate… And this year, I am all the more reliving all those lovely memories, as I have tried to get Deepavali Lehyam and all those sumptuous sweets and savories prepared, along with Idli Vada breakfast, as it was done by my Amma years back.
My children have taken the stance of going for a completely Eco-friendly Diwali and have decided to not burst crackers or support any act of bursting crackers. Well, I am so happy and proud that they have taken this decision to support Global Warming. But somewhere that young girl in me , who used to love and enjoy bursting crackers, gets the question of whether they aremissing out of the fun element of Deepavali?
On that note, with those lovely memories, Wishing each one of you a very Happy, Prosperous and Eco-friendly Deepavali / Diwali!!!
Tags: Deepavali, Festival of Lights