Diwali: Sweets, Lights, and Tales

Diwali is just around the corner, and the celebrations have already started. One of India’s biggest and important holidays, the festival of lights brings with itself an unmatchable excitement and celebratory spirit. Celebrated not only by Hindus but Sikhs, Buddhists, and Jains alike, the festival connects followers of multiple religions to celebrate the victory of the forces of good over evil and bring a deep communal bond with it.

The celebrations and traditions are many. And so are the stories! Hindu mythology and folklore go hand in hand, and we often find different versions of narratives behind Diwali woven into the folklore. The most popular mythological legend is to mark the homecoming of Hindu king and deity, Rama after his 14-year exile and victory over the demon king Ravana. Legend has it that the people of Ayodhya welcomed his return by lighting rows of oil lamps (called diyas) outside their homes, which is how the tradition of lighting lamps on this auspicious day came into being. For many, Diwali also signifies the end of the harvest season in most parts of India, so it is also seen as a display of gratitude for nature’s generosity.

People pray to Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, whose blessings are invoked during this auspicious period. Houses undergo a ritual cleaning and are decorated with flowers and rangoli to welcome the goddess. For Sikhs, it is the celebrations of Bandhi Chhor Diwas, which means Prisoner Release Day. The day is seen as a triumph of right over wrong as their sixth guru, Guru Hargobind, along with 52 princes, were released from Gwalior Prison in India in 1619. The Sikhs celebrated this return by lighting the Golden Temple, and this tradition continues even today. In Jainism, Diwali marks the attainment of moksha by Lord Mahavira, the 24th and last Tirthankara of the Jain dharma, in 527 B.C.E. It is, therefore, a day of great celebration, and the Jains consider the brightly lit lamps as signifying the light of knowledge that guides one through the world of darkness. In Buddhism, Diwali is believed to be the day Emperor Ashoka converted to Buddhism. They celebrate the occasion by chanting the mantras as well as remembering Emperor Ashoka.

Diwali in India and around the world is a spectacular affair, to say the least. The whole country wears a festive look, with the streets done up in fairy lights, and homes getting a full Diwali-makeover. Since the country is home to people of various religious, Diwali celebrations differ from family to family. Each community celebrates this festival in its special way, with unique traditions and rituals. Whether it’s making different types of mithais, doing Lakshmi puja or a certain way of decorating the home, each has their own special style. We chat with a few families from India and USA about the festival and how they are going to celebrate it while ensuring they do not compromise their health or the health of those around them.


CHHAYA MOMAYA

She is what sophistication is made of. Yes, Chhaya Momaya is a charmer! A doting mother, diligent wife, Mumbai’s leading Social Influencer, social worker, and successful life coach, grooming and image consultant. Assertive, stylish, confident, and a thorough professional are a few words that best describe her. It’s Diwali time, and who better than Chhaya to throw light on her thoughts about the festival of lights!

PREPARATION FOR the FESTIVAL 
Diwali is a beautiful festival of lights, prosperity, welcoming Lakshmi Ji and Saraswati Ji, and celebrations bring a lot of cheer into our lives. It combines bonding with family, renovating and decorating the house and, of course, shopping and dining! Since it is a family tradition, we do a myriad of things – we make rangolis in front of the main door, decorate the house with beautiful garlands and lights, cook healthy food, and dress up in new and traditional garbs and family and friends get together. We also send homemade mithais, functional art, or dried nuts to our close ones..

MOST HATKE DIWALI 
Going back many years ago, around the late ‘70s, my father took me, my grandmother, mom, and brother to Delhi and booked a hotel. The plan was to go to Red Fort, Meena Bazaar, Agra and Taj Mahal, and I even made some beautiful clothes for the trip. Since those days we didn’t have computerized reservations, the hotel manager messed up our booking, and we had to spend one whole day in a dormitory in some sanatorium. (Laughs.) I lost a trunk full of my new clothes, the mood was dampening, and we thought our trip was ruined, but the next day we got the reservation in the hotel; I got new clothes as well, it’s just that now when I look back, it is such a funny memory of Diwali! 

YOUR IDEAL DIWALI MEAL...
Nothing beats a homemade meal. I am particular about having traditional food on the main festival night, so we prepare a special spread of pooris, Kala Channa, Shrikhand from my mother’s recipe. Every year we make the same spread, it tastes exactly the same, and it is very close to my heart!

SPECIAL TRADITIONS
We perform a Lakshmi puja, on Diwali morning and in the evening. We take out the silver and polish it till we can see our joy reflected in its gleam. The ritual of lighting diyas and 
lamps are special at different levels; we give away mithais and cash to the staff. Not that we don’t do it every day, but we ensure to play spiritual and devotional songs from morning till evening to dissipate all the negativity and fill our home and thoughts with positivity and a sense of well-being!

THE BEST DIWALI GIFT RECEIVED…
I think the blessings from my elders are the best Diwali gifts; other than that; I love homemade snacks and mithais.

DIWALI 2021…
This year will not be any different, even though we shifted to a new house, the tradition will continue. There will be a lot of music, dance and merriment within the family. Even my mother will be staying with me this year, so her blessings will make this the best Diwali.


SHIV RAO AND PREETHI URS

Though commonly celebrated to mark the victory of good over evil, Diwali symbolizes much more; it reinstates the faith in the divine, the positivity and the beauty that exists around us. It also signifies love, happiness and sharing of great moments with family and Preethi and Shiv Rao from New York echo the same thought! While Preethi used to be a kindergarten teacher, her husband Shiv is in the finance sector. Read ahead as Preethi shares her festive plans for Diwali, what this auspicious holiday means to her, and much more!

PREPARATION FOR the FESTIVAL 
My memory of Diwali growing up in India is that of a noisy, bustling, happy time in the company of aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins. The tradition of buying new clothes, crackers, and delicious foods remains my favourite.

SPECIAL TRADITIONS
When Shiv and I moved to New York over 30 years ago, Diwali was a very different celebration. A few of us Indian friends would gather at someone’s home for a quiet puja and a potluck meal; very low-key. Not wanting to draw attention to ourselves, most of us preferred to wear jeans and t-shirts instead of any traditional Indian clothes. Today it is quite different. Diwali parties have become extravagant affairs with all the bells and whistles. I delight in wearing my saree. 

There is a growing awareness and participation by the broader population. In some states, public schools are closed in honour of Diwali.

MOST HATKE DIWALI 
One year we threw a Diwali party on the roof garden of our apartment building here in Manhattan. The weather cooperated, and we had a beautiful, clear, crisp fall evening. I had hired an incredible set of jazz musicians. The whole roof was decorated with flowers and diyas.

YOUR IDEAL DIWALI MEAL...
There is something magical about listening to the music with a full view of the Chrysler building accompanied by gourmet Desi Khana. 

DIWALI 2021…
I usually place diyas on my front door for five days and distribute Mithais to my friends and neighbours. This tradition will continue. We get a whole range of options now, from generic to gourmet. I love ordering my favourite treats from this wonderful person in Bengaluru who ships to New York.


RAJLAKSHMI PATIL

Bold and fearless, Rajlakshmi Patil is no less of a patakha in real life. Born in Mumbai, Rajlakshmi finished her senior year in Switzerland and is pursuing her undergraduate degree in London. With a deep interest in environmental protection and social activism right since childhood, Rajlakshmi is driven by her passion for the environment and literature; she even published a collection of poems in 2020 to raise funds for her organisation D-CAL, which works towards soliciting environment-related research proposals. Apart from this, the stunner enjoys skiing and playing the piano and the guitar with her band!

PREPARATION FOR THE FESTIVAL
I have unfortunately not been in India to celebrate Diwali with my family for the last two years as I was studying in a boarding school in Switzerland. However, being a member of the Hindu faith group society in my school, we decorate the campus and light diyas every year. When I am home in Mumbai, I help my mom decorate the mandir and make rangoli. A week before Diwali, I prepare a list of ingredients with my chef and plan Diwali recipes.

MOST HATKE DIWALI 
2019 was the most memorable Diwali for me. This was the first time I was not home for Diwali due to covid-19, I could not fly back home as we were quarantined in our school. To make it a memorable moment, my Indian friends and I decided to bring in this festival of lights in our boarding house by decorating the common room with lanterns and lamps. We ordered Indian food for everyone, which made the vibe homely. The true ‘hatke’ moment was when all my international friends danced to Bollywood music with us, which lit a smile on all our faces.

YOUR IDEAL DIWALI MEAL...
Diwali is one day I will not compromise on food; when I’m at home, we have a set of traditional sweets such as boondi ke ladoo and gulab jamun prepared. My favourite is when my mom makes Pooran poli, samosa and Bhajiya, which is completed by besan ki barfi.

SPECIAL TRADITIONS
Diwali is the time of year when the whole family comes together to Dada Ji’s house to celebrate. We share gifts and take the elderly’s blessings. For years, we have done God Lakshmi Devi’s Puja, and my nani recites Shri Ram and Sita stories.

THE BEST DIWALI GIFT RECEIVED…
The best Diwali gift I have received is the Bhagavad Gita which is the Hindu’s holy book. I always keep this with me wherever I travel, as, over the years, it has taught me valuable life lessons that have shaped me into a better person and made me look at life from a different point of view.

DIWALI 2021…
This year since I am at university in London, I will celebrate Diwali with my friends.  To bring in the true essence of this joyous festival, we will be cooking Indian food and decorating the student accommodation with diyas and lanterns. To make it more traditional, we will be dressing up in Indian attire and cherishing old times.


GARGI RATHI AND KARAN VARDHAN

Better known to many as the “Emerald lady”, Gargi Rathi Vardhan grew up in an English boarding school and spent summers in Sub Saharan Africa. Her love affair with emeralds began at a young age leading her to create the first jewellery asset management brand that specialises in fine emerald jewellery. At House of Meraki, she offers a personalised service to private clients and family offices, educating them with the unique asset class of emeralds, along with managing their jewellery portfolios. Based out of St James, London, for over three decades, travelling has been one of Gargi’s biggest passions, which has given her immense exposure enhancing her creativity. It’s only recently that her life took a new turn when she got married in Mumbai. Relocating has definitely been a journey of various emotions, but she says she is rapidly falling in love with this vibrant, intoxicating and kaleidoscopic city.

PREPARATION FOR THE  FESTIVAL
It was only when I recently got married, I realized the importance of my “First Diwali”. Everyone has been gushing about it. As part of a Marwari family, we follow all the traditions and rituals to the tee. Decorating the house is my first responsibility, and I intend to make a statement using exotic flowers, marigolds, and diyas with a personal touch. I am most excited about looking chic and festive in my new outfit and putting on romantic emerald jewellery! 

MOST HATKE DIWALI
Well, as this is my first Diwali after marriage, I definitely think it will be the most “Hatke” because knowing my husband Karan, I am certain he’s planned a big surprise, and I honestly can’t wait to celebrate with him. But the most memorable yet is when I hosted a rangoli party with all my European friends in London, where we dressed up in ethnic wear and ate a massive Indian feast.

YOUR IDEAL DIWALI MEAL
I live right in the centre of the melting pot of gastronomy, so the choices are endless. ‘Chatpata’ Marwari food from Rajasthan definitely stirs nostalgia and hits the spot. 

Old-age family recipes such as bedmi puri, Dahi bada, mogar, gatte ki sabzi, meethe chawal are what I have penned down for the Diwali menu.

SPECIAL TRADITIONS
I grew up working very closely with the Mother Teresa Foundation. It is a long-standing family tradition to present new clothes, gifts and sweets for the orphanages, making it a memorable Diwali.

THE BEST DIWALI GIFT RECEIVED…
I am yet to receive my favourite Diwali gift, but as I love jewellery- it was a vintage Basra Moti Kantha designed by Cartier, passed down by my grandmother, that is now part of my treasure.

DIWALI 2021…
The shopping, the parties, the mithais, the namkeens, I plan to do it all. And, of course, the Lakshmi puja will be a grand affair at the Vardhan House. 


DIGANGANA SURYAVANSHI

Diwali holds a special place for charming actress, Digangana Suryavanshi. She celebrates it with her family in a traditional manner and looks forward to the festival every year. “For me, Diwali is like a celebration, a celebration of being Indian,” expresses Digangana, who has won millions of hearts through her impactful performances in shows like Ek Veer Ki Ardaas...Veera, Bigg Boss 9 in 2015, and movies like FryDay (2018), Hippi (2019) and the Tamil film Dhanusu  Raasi  Neyargale (2019).  In an exclusive interview, the beautiful actress who will be seen in upcoming sports action movie Seetimaarr shares her special plans for the festival this year and her favourite Diwali moments.

PREPARATION FOR THE FESTIVAL
Diwali is all about making time for your family, and celebrating the festival with them. Usually, there has puja at home and if I’m shooting in another city, my father makes sure that he comes to me, and we try to be together and celebrate. If I am at home, we first pray at the house temple and then go to Sarvajanik temple. Later we eat sweets and of course some homemade stuff. We also make sure that some kind of music session happens late evening; this is the basic culture. I also like to be cosy and comfortable with the people I love and care about, as this gives me a festive vibe.

MOST HATKE DIWALI 
I think COVID time Diwali was (Hatke)! Nobody was coming and going; it was quite weird and different at the same time. I also feel we just became more grateful for what we have rather than being extravagant about everything. It’s nice sometimes to be home and still celebrate with a smile in the “mist of the dark”. Well, that was a memorable one, and then there’s this unforgettable memory I have; it was this one Diwali night, and the puja finished late in the house. I was an overly excited kid who was ready with a bag of firecrackers, and my friends were already downstairs. After I went downstairs, I, along with my friends, tried to light up a fire fountain, but it didn’t light up. So we kicked it aside, and I started lighting up another one close by. Few seconds into it, the one we had kicked aside somehow became active and started spilling fire everywhere! My friends warned me and told me to start running, but I stood there a few feet away and covered my face with my hands. But well, that didn’t help, and I got some burns on my arm.

YOUR IDEAL DIWALI MEAL
My ideal Diwali has to have these little corn flour biscuits, karanji, chakli, gulab jamun, milk cakes, and lots of homemade delicacies. My mom also makes malpua which is really delicious. So all these amazing food items sum up my Diwali.

SPECIAL TRADITIONS
Lakshmi puja, of course, happens every year in the house. Ideally, we only eat after the Lakshmi puja, which is one tradition we always follow. I don’t like to play cards on Diwali. I always like praying, having sweets, chit-chatting, singing, dancing, that’s it. (Smiles)

THE BEST DIWALI GIFT RECEIVED…
On Diwali I usually get jewellery. It’s like a part of the tradition.

DIWALI 2021…
I will be celebrating it with my family; if I am not travelling or shooting, then I will be at home mostly. And I think this time we can get together with guests, and that’s something I am looking forward to. Because the last two years we were not able to celebrate festivals the way we were celebrating before. So this time we are looking forward to meeting and greeting the guests.


AVIVA BIDAPA

Following tradition, spending time with family and close friends, and sharing happiness is how Aviva Bidapa likes spending her Diwali. A fashion designer by profession, Aviva runs her eponymous swimwear line “Aviva Bidapa Swimwear” that is now moving into athleisure! After working in the fashion industry for over ten years, Aviva also runs a modelling agency and a modelling institute to train young aspiring models.

PREPARATION FOR the FESTIVAL
My preparations are always figuring out how many events we have to attend and making the outfits for them! Diwali is colourful, so we get to be that much more creative with what we wear! 

MOST HATKE DIWALI
Every Diwali in my 20s was amazing. Friends, food and good vibes! My entire friend circle took an oath to never burn crackers, so we overcompensate with the parties!

YOUR IDEAL DIWALI MEAL…
Sweets and more sweets! But we always do a home-cooked meal, a little of everything everyone likes!

SPECIAL TRADITIONS

I love lighting diyas all over the house. There is something so beautiful about a well-lit house in the dark; it’s also such a great time to get together with family and make the house beautiful!

THE BEST DIWALI GIFT RECEIVED…
Well, my family is very particular about presents – so we end up giving each other money to buy what we really want!

DIWALI 2021… 
Diwali will be celebrated with close family and friends this year, just because COVID is still around. But a nice dinner with a good bonding session and a bit of poker is definitely on the cards! 


ANKITA MAITY

For celebrity choreographer Ankita Maity, Diwali is a journey to discover the famed festival of lights, one she enjoys with her friends and family. Talking about her journey, the dancer says, “It’s amazing to see people’s reaction when I tell them I’ve been in the industry for more than 18 years. 

I started at a very young age, I was four when I started training under my guru Madhumita Chakroborty, and then life just happened. From a dancer who won Boogie Woogie, a performer on national and international stages, a celebrity Choreographer in Jhalak Dikhlaja and Nach Baliye to a dance director for many platforms like Netflix, Hotstar, Television and movies and now on my way up to be a director and an entrepreneur with my holistic lifestyle company, VIAME. I am super excited about it, and I am awaiting my Netflix show Yeh Kaali Kaali Aankhen to come on air.” 

Adding more shine and sparkle this festive season, the dancer shares her thoughts and special memories associated with the festival. 

PREPARATION FOR THE FESTIVAL
Some rituals are inculcated in our system, like the Diwali rituals! I clean the house before the main festival. That’s a must. In fact, even when I am travelling during the festive times for work or something, I make sure I call for specialised services to get it all thoroughly tidied up because ‘Lakshmi maa is coming home.’

MOST HATKE DIWALI
There was this time where I had invited over 50 guests at home, and my house was divided into three parties; two of the rooms were filled with people playing, and one had people dancing on 90’s tracks. It was fun, but it was a hassle cleaning up the place the following day. (Laughs.)

YOUR IDEAL DIWALI MEAL
Nimki, chakli, and besan ka ladoo are my favourites.

SPECIAL TRADITIONS
So every Diwali, right from the time I was in school, it was our ritual to give goody bags to the needy children and oh, the smile you get when they get their gifts is priceless.

THE BEST DIWALI GIFT RECEIVED…
My girls and I have a tradition where we give each a gift every Diwali, and on Christmas, we become each other’s Secret Santa, so we look forward to who gets what each year. My best Diwali gift was the “jade plant” (also known as the good luck plant) that was gifted to me.

DIWALI 2021…
We all must maintain COVID protocols; hence, I am keeping it quiet but fun this year. Calling just a few friends, playing cards, eating a lot of sweets, and having some quality family time. There are no crackers for sure, and I’d humbly request everyone not burst crackers; the most affected are the animals. 


VRINDA SACHDEV

Diwali is a festival of lights, positivity, and family bonding – and entrepreneur Vrinda Sachdev agrees. Born and brought up in Delhi, Vrinda is the Creative Director of Qbik. She is a modernist at heart and met her now-husband and Business Partner Gurinder at Pearl Academy. According to Vrinda, life has always been surrounded by fun and ambitious family and friends, and she is eternally grateful for that.

PREPARATION FOR FESTIVAL
Deep cleaning is a tradition, updating crockery and furnishings, making and picking up new clothes from home-grown brands, and buying jewellery on Dhanteras. Delhi is magical post-Diwali. The roads are lit, markets are bustling with people, there is a nip in the air. Had it not been for the crazy levels of pollution in the city at this time, it would have still been my favourite time of the year!

MOST HATKE DIWALI
When my brother had newly moved to Sydney in early 2003, we hadn’t seen him for around 15 months. I was between class 10 and 12 boards, and my parents also didn’t visit him mostly because of my schedules, tuitions, fashion school entrance exam, classes etc. He surprised us on Diwali of 2005 by flying in from Sydney. We were delighted to see him in person, hug him and speak to him on a platform that was not controlled by bad internet!

YOUR IDEAL DIWALI MEAL...
No matter what day it is, the most special is always Rajma Chawal. The ideal meal that I have grown up eating on Diwali night is maa ki dal, pulao, gobhi-aloo and raita, along with lots of mithai, great company in the presence of love!

SPECIAL TRADITIONS
I look forward to dressing up and celebrating with our store and factory teams, then meeting my parents to give them gifts on Choti Diwali and ending the day by meeting friends for a long, long session of cards. On Diwali, it becomes a bit hectic because we do pooja first at home, then at the factories and stores. We take the team out for lunch every year post the store puja. After that, we drive to Karnal, my husband’s home town, and celebrate Diwali with his family and friends. It’s all about togetherness in celebrations.

THE BEST DIWALI GIFT RECEIVED…
Gifts for me are moments. Moments that I get to spend with my family and loved ones. Moments in which I cherish the fact that they are all healthy, safe and doing well. I started working and earning money from a very young age. So buying gifts for myself was thankfully never a problem. It’s these moments and realising how far I have come that I live for!

DIWALI 2021…
The same way I do every year! Some things and traditions should never change. Covid made last Diwali a bit slow and silent, but thankfully the cases are under control and vaccine drives are thorough; India would celebrate just like 2019!


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