Autumn is my favourite time of year probably because there are so many holidays to celebrate and so many reasons to get together with family from Thanksgiving and Halloween to Navarathri and Deepavali. One of the greatest things about living in Toronto is the fact that it is so multicultural here — We have the opportunity to partake in many different festivities even if they are not necessarily part of our culture. For my parents, celebrating all our cultural and religious holidays was their way of keeping our traditions alive and maintaining a sense of identity away from their motherland. The fondest of childhood memories include running home from school to celebrate Saraswathi Pooja (the ninth day of Navarathri) and coming home to heaps of sweets for Deepavali. Now that I have children of my own, I hope to help them create those same warm memories so that they may one day share these traditions with their children.
Navarathri and Deepavali are both welcomed with a lot of excitement around here. A week or so before the start of Navarathri, I start cleaning and organizing the home and stocking up on all the non-perishable essentials for preparing naivedyam such as chickpeas, good quality ghee, red raw rice, jaggery, raisins, and cashews. Akshaya and Udayan know by my choice of groceries that Navarathri is fast approaching and they eagerly anticipate all the festive cooking and special sweet treats during this very special time of year. The kids enjoy helping me prepare naivedyam for each of the nine nights of Navarathri but their favourite part is decorating our idols with fresh flowers. Akshaya and Udayan take so much pride in being part of the spiritual festivities and love telling their teachers and friends all about it.
The 20 days between the end of Navarathri and Deepavali are spent shopping for new cultural atttire to wear on Deepavali, shopping for little gifts, and deciding on what sweets to make and which ones to buy. A few days prior to Deepavali, we finish of any meat that may be in the home, and thoroughly clean our home. I make my usual set of sweets: milk toffee (because it’s my dad’s favourite), carrot halwa, rava laddu, vegetarian cake, gulab jamun, rava kesari (my Udayan’s favourite), and a couple types of burfi. As if all that wasn’t enough, we also purchase additional sweets from our favourite Indian sweet shop. Even though I stress the benefits of healthy eating on a daily basis, Deepavali, much like all other holidays, is always an exception — we eat sweets until our hearts are content and fill up on a delicious vegetarian feast full of family favourites.
On Deepavali we wake up before sunrise to rub oil onto our skin and hair, shower, pray, and get dressed in our fancy attire. If Deepavali falls on a school day, festivities are put on hold until the children come back from school. Unfortunately due to food allergies/diet restrictions, the children’s school does not allow food items to be brought and shared at school. Instead Akshaya and Udayan take little bottles of bubbles as gifts for their classmates and candles for their teachers. This year they will also be taking the Bharat Babies’ book Let’s Celebrate Diwali, to share with their classmates. Afterschool, the children receive little gifts from us in the form of books, money, little trinkets, and toys. Even though weekdays are super busy for everyone, my parents will come over for a quick visit or we will go over to my parents’ house for a visit. Akshaya and Udayan enjoy giving out the sweets that they helped make and cards they wrote and of course they get spoiled with gifts and more sweets from my parents. If Deepavali falls on a weekend (like this year), we get a lot more time to spend with family.
Although Diwali is commonly known as the festival of lights, my Tamil Hindu family never lit lamps on Deepavali. Instead we lit lamps in and around the home on a day called Karthikai Villakku, during the Tamil month of Karthikai (mid-November to mid-December). Despite this variation, our reason for celebrating Deepavali although one day earlier than Diwali, remains quite the same. On Deepavali we celebrate the victory of good over evil, wisdom over ignorance, light over darkness and hope over despair as we commemorate the slaying of evil demon king Narakasura by Lord Krishna. Narakasura, previously known for his good deeds, unfortunately let power and greed consume him to the point that he was causing havoc to both Gods and the people. Once enlightened by Krishna, Narakasura asked that the day of his death be celebrated with great joy and feast, hence the celebration of Deepavali.
The majority of North Indian Hindus celebrate Diwali a day after the Tamil celebration of Deepavali, as they commemorate the return of Prince Rama (an incarnation of Lord Vishnu) and his wife Sita (an incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi) to their kingdom of Ayodhya after defeating the demon king Ravana. According to the great epic Ramayanna, Rama, was exiled for 14 years by his own father, King Dasharath of Ayodhya, so that his half-brother would be first in line to be King as per his stepmother’s wishes. Rama’s wife, Sita and his brother Lakshman joined Rama in exile on Sita’s insistence. While in exile, Sita was captured and imprisoned by King Ravana who desired to marry her. However, Sita was rescued by Rama and the monkey God, Hanuman and Ravana was defeated in a battle of good versus evil. Upon hearing that good had prevailed and their rightful King was making his return after 14 years of exile, the people of Ayodhya lit rows of diyas (oil lamps) and illuminated the kingdom of Ayodhya to welcome Rama and Sita back home. Today the lighting of the diya serves as a symbol of the victory of good over evil and light over darkness.
A few years ago my husband and I decided that we would start a new tradition for our children and light our clay lamps on Deepavali as well as on Karthikai Villakku. Sometimes Deepavali and Halloween fall close enough together that we get to light our Jack-o-lanterns as well.
This year, Deepavali will be quite special because we will be helping baby Achyuthan create his very first memories of this festival (in the form of photographs, of course). My husband and I will definitely cherish these new memories the most as Deepavali 2016 will be our first as a family of five!
#MyDiwaliStory is campaign to help promote authentic, pluralistic stories surrounding the festival of Diwali. This campaign, a joint effort between South Asian mom bloggers from around the globe and children’s book publisher Bharat Babies, helps celebrate all that is Diwali around the world.
Special thanks to the very talented Gowreesan of Icon Images for the beautiful photographs in this post and to Gowri of Opal Beauty for helping with the shoot. Gowressan is an award-winning photographer who specializes in wedding and event photography. Follow him on Instagram @iconimages4266 to see his latest projects!