Being Women

Diwali Chronicles: Tales Of Nostalgia, Tradition, and Quirky Celebrations

The dawn of Diwali morning in Southern India is marked by a hearty breakfast affair featuring an unexpected star: Idli and Chicken Curry. Yes, you read it right! Non-veg on Diwali!

Diwali, or as we call it down South, ‘Deepavali’, has always held a special place in my heart. It wasn’t just because of my name, but it was because it was the most fun festival eagerly anticipated throughout the year.

For me, the arrival of November and the Diwali season is heralded by the delightful fragrance of “Paalappoovu” (alstonia flower), and the cinnamony-scented “Vayana ila” (bay leaves) that waft through the streets in the late evenings.  This aroma brings back memories of Kumbilappam / Theraliyappam, a delightful treat prepared by my aunt using a mix of jaggery, coconut, and jackfruit, encased in a conically shaped bay leaf and steamed to perfection.

Childhood Delights – Crackers and Shared Laughter

One of the most enjoyable aspects of Diwali was the crackling sound of fireworks. In our lively ‘colony’ with 22 houses, kids of all ages would converge at a single spot to revel in the joy of bursting crackers together. Given that my dad worked in the heart of the city, the responsibility of procuring the crackers often fell on him. Those were the golden days when a single purchase could ensure a supply of enough crackers for over 40 kids, ranging from 3-year-olds to energetic 20-year-olds! The nights were filled with laughter, shared treats from each household, and a collective celebration of joy – truly nostalgic times.

It was after marriage that I started celebrating Deepavali at my in-laws’ place. My mother-in-law, the unsung hero of festive preparations, would stay up all night crafting an array of “Deepavali palahaaram” — an assortment of sweet and savoury snacks for the festival. The dawn of Diwali morning was marked by a hearty breakfast affair featuring an unexpected star: Idli and Chicken Curry.

Yes, you read it right! Non-veg on Diwali! This unique culinary tradition is rooted in many parts of Tamil Nadu and some regions of Kerala. The flavourful spread wouldn’t be complete without ‘Rasavada’ (lentil fritters soaked in Tomato Rasam) and, occasionally, a tantalizing serving of Mutton fry. My Bengali friends tell me that Mangsho or meat bhog is mandatory on Kali Puja (which coincides with Diwali) in their culture!

South Indian Deepavali traditions

Deevali Kuli” or “Ganga Snanam” adds a unique touch to the Diwali festivities.

It’s a ritual involving the liberal application of gingelly oil all over the body followed by a bath before sunrise. In olden times, the less privileged would visit their zamindars, in pursuit of their portion of gingelly oil for this ceremonial bath. Some individuals would go to such lengths as utilizing their entire year’s oil ration, inadvertently causing a depletion in their grocery stocks. This extravagance birthed the idiom “deevali kulikkathu,” aptly translating to going bankrupt due to excessive spending beyond one’s means.

Palaharam and Pattas

Deepavali, translating to a ‘row of lamps’ in Malayalam, doesn’t usually involve the lighting of diyas by most South Indians (except in a few pockets). Instead, it revolves around palaharam (eatables), kodi (new dress), pattaas/padakkam (crackers), and shared joyous moments. It’s a day of reaching out to friends and relatives through the ancient “lan phone,” a tradition now lost to the convenience of WhatsApp groups. There was a certain warmth in personally extending greetings, something no forwarded template card can replicate.

The Tale of Vishnu and Narakasura

Unlike North India, where Diwali resonates with the return of Ram to Ayodhya after defeating Ravana, in our part of the country, it’s all about Vishnu triumphing over Narakasura, spreading light and symbolizing the victory of good over evil. This might explain the tradition of relishing non-veg on Diwali – a celebration of this victorious tale. Dhanteras and Bhai Dooj aren’t part of our Diwali narrative. While Diwali signals the onset of winter in the North and Central regions of India, we South Indians share a running joke – “A North Indian donning a sweater for Diwali won’t get out of it until Holi.”

Odisha Extravaganza: Rangolis, Chicken Curry, and Lights

Upon moving to Ethiopia, I began celebrating Diwali with friends, usually at the Tamil Samajam or some hotel gatherings. However, it wasn’t until I arrived in Odisha that I embraced the role of the lady head of the house during Deepavali. Bhubaneswar transforms into a spectacle during Diwali, adorned in lights, with people revelling in the streets amidst the distinctive aroma of crackers. The sky lights up with sparkles, and joy fills the air. I’d go all out – crafting intricate rangolis, whipping up an array of snacks, preparing the traditional chicken curry breakfast, and adorning my home with string lights, diyas, and festive decor. Inviting friends over for brunch and bonding became an annual tradition, pandemic years included.

A Quiet Diwali: Missing Rangoli, Embracing Tradition

This Diwali marked a first – celebrating without my daughter, who couldn’t make it home for the holidays. The festivities were a bit muted – no vibrant rangoli, no dazzling lights, and no friends. Just me, whipping up idli, chicken curry, and kesari (sheera) for my parents, husband, uncle, and our two trusty maids. It might have been a quieter affair, but the aroma of comfort and tradition, filled the air! 🕯️🍛

My mom being a staunch vegetarian and mindful of her sugar levels, I tempted her taste buds with a spoonful of Kesari (Sheera) – and she loved it; a rare victory for me in the kitchen! 🍬 We even indulged her with a luxurious bath, seated in her wheelchair. My knees were on the brink of staging a rebellion and running away from their sockets, so I decided to surrender to a quick nap after a rather unsatisfactory lunch from a nearby eatery. 😴

Now, after the whirlwind of cooking and homely chores, the evening rolled in with guests bearing their usual condescending comments and pearls of wisdom from the Whatsapp University. Despite the Supreme Court’s ban on firecrackers, my town seemed impervious, echoing with the sounds, smoke, and scents of Deepavali. Beads, my pet, was trembling with fear amidst all the sounds, demanding a cosy cuddle session. 🎇🐾

Fingers crossed for a livelier celebration next Deepavali when I’m in a more cheerful and motivated state! As the sounds of Deepavali fade into memories, here’s to hoping for livelier celebrations, cheerful moments, and the enduring warmth of tradition in the Diwalis yet to come. 🌟🎆 May the radiant lights bring peace and joy into your lives. 🪔✨

How did you celebrate Diwali this year? Share your festive moments and traditions in the comments below!!


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