When Light Prevails - Diwali Feature

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With the month of October upon us, it’s the start of the festive season. Right from Dussehra (which was celebrated on September 30) to Diwali (which will fall on October 18), there’s festivity in the air and people across the country are in a joyous mood. The King of all Indian festivals, Diwali signifies the victory of good over evil, and marks the promise of a new beginning.

Now’s the time when there’s plenty of autumn cleaning done at homes and offices, lots and lots of shopping, loads of consumption of incredibly rich and delicious food, festive decorations with marigolds, and lavish card parties. But above all, it’s a time when family and friends come together to spend quality time.

To usher in the festival and to celebrate Diwali at its finest, we bring you closer to some families from across the country who welcomed us into their homes and shared their festive customs and traditions. And contrary to the belief that the significance of the festival has become diluted, these special folks underscore the notion that festivals are still primarily a family-oriented affair.     - Niharika

Shweta Khanduri

Miss Uttarakhand, model and actress Shweta Khanduri rose to fame with her ramp walks for various designers at leading fashion shows, as well as videos for some singles by well-known singers. Coming from a joint family from the north, Diwali for her is a very big celebration. Everybody in her family comes together to celebrate in a grand way, complete with lots of crackers, diyas, food, flowers, rangoli, and of course the card parties!

Having grown up with her brothers, Shweta was a tomboy when she was younger, and loved bursting bombs, even the deadliest ones like Lakshmi and Hydrogen bombs! But now that she’s living in Mumbai and everyone has become conscious of the environment, she only lights diyas and decorates the house with lamps and flowers. “I love decorating my house with lights. It gives positivity and good spirit while also giving the place a beautiful look,” she exclaims. Moreover, having a pet, Shweta has come to understand how painful firecrackers are for them. Hence, she appeals to everyone around her to have a noiseless Diwali.

Festivals call for a lot of binge eating, and Shweta too loves to indulge in the sweets and special savoury items that are prepared during this time. She adds, “My brother visits me from abroad during this time, and together we’re partners in crime. So I love to spend time with him during the festive period.”

Suruchi Khanna

“Diwali for me is not only about illuminating the light in my house. It is also about illuminating the lives of people. I like to share the festivities with my friends and relatives,” says Suruchi Khanna from Delhi. Suruchi has a successful home furnishings brand called Sanaa Furnishing by Sava International, and Sanaa Couture which deals in high-end clothing.

Right from meeting and greeting people to exchanging wishes and gifts with colleagues and relatives, and decorating her house and workspace, Diwali is a fun and joyous 10 days for Suruchi. She says, “I decorate my house with lots of diyas, candles, and lights. Firework displays are held while families feast and share gifts. We worship the goddess Lakshmi, and dress up very traditionally on this auspicious day. ”This year, too, she plans to burn crackers with her kids, decorate her house, and meet up with close ones. In addition, she plans to tie up with an NGO for some charity.

Asked what she likes most about the festival, she says she loves everything about it, from the pleasure in decorating her house and playing dress up to feasting like there’s no tomorrow. She adds, “Diwali at my house is a 10-day affair. Our group of friends start gathering at each other’s place for different themed dinners. This is one time of the year when we don’t carry work home. It’s a time of merriment.”

Diwali is a reconfirmation of victory of light over darkness. It symbolises prosperity, abundance, and happiness for Suruchi. Morever, she loves Diwali because this is one festival that binds all communities together and brings unity.

Dharna Hassija

For Delhi-based designer Dharna Hassija, Diwali is the culmination of a long festive period, and it’s not just celebrated in a day. The festivities start with the first day of Navratri, and the next nine days see a few members of the family observing a fast. During this period, she says, the entire family comes together for dinner each day. The next week in the Hassija household is a time for festive shopping and preparations. “Karwa Chauth is my day. It’s a day I adore for all its festivities and values,” says Dharna, adding that the annual ritual of Diwali parties continues till the day after Diwali. But the five days of Diwali (i.e., from Dhanteras to Bhai Dooj), is a time for family in the household.

The preparations for the festival start very early at her house, she says. The day begins by preparing and decorating the house. “A prayer at office followed by a customary office lunch is also very special, as this is one day when everyone is in a jovial mood, and most often all the staff members attend prayers with their respective families,” says Dharna. Post lunch the family conducts a Lakshmi puja at home, and this is followed by visiting the extended family’s homes.

Sharing what she enjoys most about Diwali, Dharna says it is the energy – everyone’s full of energy and always happy and smiling during this month. Another bonus is the time spent with family. She says, “Throughout the year everyone is busy with their work and personal life. But during the Diwali season everyone comes together. It’s a great feeling.”

So what’s in store for her for the coming month? Dharna says, “Diwali is always a special time and festivities are best enjoyed when they are spontaneous and not planned. There are of course some special things that I am looking forward to this season. Workwise, I am really excited with the new festive collection that I am unveiling.” On the personal front, Dharna is excited to spend Diwali with her mother, who has just arrived from Tanzania.

Musskan Agarwal

“Diwali stands for ray of lights, and I celebrate Diwali by decorating the indoor and outdoor of my home with beautiful rows of flickering lamps, lanterns, and lights,” says jewellery designer Musskan Agarwaal. Her store in Delhi, PROROYAL KIWI by MUSSKAN, showcases contemporary jewellery. Living with her grandmother, parents and her brother, Musskan says she starts the day by exchanging wishes with near and dear ones, followed by a puja at her home and offices.

What does she enjoy most about Diwali? “Right from the Diwali pre-parties to the D-day, I love the socialising, gifting, and dressing up parts. I find Diwali one festival that brings all family and friends together to celebrate. It’s about welcoming the Lord back into our hearts and experiencing the essence of Diwali,” she says. On this occasion, the jewellery designer thanks God for all his blessings bestowed upon her, and for giving her family and her the strength to cope with both the good and difficult phases of life.

The day begins with a small puja at the Agarwaal house, after which the family visits a nearby temple to distribute sweets. “I love to decorate my house with candles, lights, and rangoli. After the puja we all feast on the special delicacies prepared at home, and of course burst a few crackers in the evening,” she says. This year the designer is planning to go the extra mile by organising a lunch outside her store for those less privileged. “The joy of reaching out to people who need the most of our love and affection is overwhelming,” she concludes.

Dr Mehak Baweja

A weight management specialist and clinical nutritionist based out of Delhi, Mehak believes Diwali is a time for family and friends to get together for fun and laughter. Everyone decorates their houses and workplaces with lamps and rangoli, cook delicious food (we’re allowed to cheat on festivals, aren’t we?), dance, sing, and organise and attend card parties.

Since it is said to mark the beginning of a new year that brings with it a new hope, Diwali, in a way, instils in Mehak an enthusiasm to continue to thrive and make a difference in society through the work she does: guiding individuals towards a healthy lifestyle.

“The hustle and bustle in the city, the lighting up of streets and houses, the grand exhibitions and celebratory events, the happy faces during Diwali time is the best thing! The frequent get-togethers add to the excitement of the festival. I also love the idea of dressing up, and of course giving and receiving gifts adds to the excitement levels,” she says.

Starting with pre-Diwali, this year Mehak plans to reach out to pregnant, underprivileged women in order to educate them on the nutritional and eating habits they must maintain for a healthy child. I want to give them guidelines as a Diwali gift, she says. Apart from this, Diwali at her home is usually spent decorating the house with rangoli, preparing delicious food, playing dressup, carrying out rituals and pujas, lighting up the house with diyas and lamps, and spending time with family and friends.

She and her family and she also believe in spreading cheer. Hence, they distribute sweets to underprivileged kids. This, they say, gives them all immense happiness.

HrishitAa Bhatt

While people across the country get time off work to celebrate Diwali with their family, actors often aren’t as lucky. But this year, Indian actress Hrishitaa Bhatt, who recently got married, is hoping to celebrate with her new family.

The festival, she says, symbolises cleansing – the house is cleaned prior to the festival to signify a new beginning. It is the celebration of light over darkness and that’s why people burst crackers. And although Hrishitaa is not a fan of crackers, she loves lighting diyas around the house and making rangoli at the entrance. She does, however, light a phuljhadi for shagun.

When she was younger, she says, Diwali was all about visiting people’s houses, wishing close ones, and of course eating loads of delicacies. Now, unfortunately, with the work schedules that everyone has, it’s difficult to actually go house to house to wish people. But when the actress is home during Diwali time, she likes to reconnect with family and friends. “It’s one of those times when most people are home and not working. It’s a time of fun and joy, whichever part of the world you are in,” she says. Gujarati born, it also marks the beginning of a new year for her.

Reema Arora

Entrepreneur Reema Arora celebrates Diwali by decorating the entrance of her home with traditional motifs of rangoli designs and lighting lamps and diyas at night, as the connotation of Diwali is “new beginnings” and the “triumph of good over evil” and “light over darkness”. 

Now is when Indians across the globe meet up with their friends and relatives, and Reema too loves to socialise and play dress up in Indian attire. Starting the day with a puja at her home and office, Reema and her family thank God for what he has blessed them with, and pray for the best in the future. She explains, “Diwali is celebrated as Lord Rama returns to Ayodhya after defeating Ravana by lighting rows of clay lamps. So the celebration of lighting lamps and candles will continue and we will be able to seek maximum blessings from God on this festival.”

The founder of Eventique Concepts, a leading exhibition of Delhi NCR, Reema indulges in shopping and cleaning of the house prior to the festival. After the customary puja at her home and office, she distributes clothes and sweets to the needy. In the evening, she hosts a get-together at her house where her loved ones come together to celebrate. Laughter, chatter, and the bursting of crackers can be heard throughout her house on this day.  

This year, she plans to collaborate with two NGOs – Saksham Foundation and SSMI NGO – to help them sell products made by poor children, so that their Diwali celebrations may be as colourful and full of light as ours.

Ridhima Bhasim

Contemporary Indian womenswear fashion designer Ridhima Bhasin has made a name for herself in the fashion space in less than three years. Based in New Delhi, the designer has a flagship store in South Extension, too. For her, Diwali is a magical time. While gifts, sweets, patakas, and merriment are common for everyone, there are traditions that are most important to each family, and hers is spending time with family.

Ridhima feels that Diwali is an excuse to have a nice party, eat good food, and bond with family and friends. “Everyone wearing bright and happy colours for this auspicious occasion makes me feel excited and happy at the same time,” she says, admitting that one of her favourite things to do is going shopping!

But beyond the lights, gambling and fun, Diwali for the designer is a time to reflect on life and make changes for the upcoming year. The lights of Diwali also signify a time of inner illumination. She says, “I believe that the light of the diya is the one that steadily shines in the chamber of the heart. Sitting quietly and fixing the mind on this supreme light illuminates the soul. It is an opportunity to cultivate and enjoy eternal bliss.”

Every year Ridhima and her sister Ritika Bhasin decorate the puja thali and the house with coloured, beautiful diyas. Refurbishing the home is also something they had a great interest in. Gifting is an important element in celebrating Diwali, and the two girls, along with their parents, distribute gifts to friends and family on this occasion.

Ridhima’s family has never been big on bursting crackers, right from the girls’ youth. They prefer having an eco-friendly Diwali rather than a noisy and smoky one. This year too they plan to celebrate it the same way, with a family get together followed by a lavish dinner at home.