From koshamansho to payasam, the festival of Diwali is chock-full of delights, writes Pritha Banerjee
Food and culture go hand-in-hand and with Diwali around the corner, most of us are busy cleaning the house, shopping for gifts or preparing for the treats. It is the most celebrated and well-known festival for Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains around the world. This is that time of the year when the whole family get-together for feasts and exchange gifts.
Across the country
Food is irrevocably entwined with every festival the country celebrates. Thus, to try the special delicacies of each state, this is the best time of the year. This year Diwali will be celebrated from October 17 to 21 (for most parts of India) and specific importance is given to each day of the celebration with lots and lots of mithai (sweets). The first day is celebrated as Dhanteras in some parts of India. “It is believed to be an auspicious day for important purchases, especially metals, including kitchenware and precious metals like silver and gold,” says Asha Sharma, a teacher from Uttar Pradesh. “In eastern and northern parts of India, atte ka halwa is made with ghee and milk and it tastes twice as good as it smells while preparing,” she adds. In Gujarat, long-grain cracked wheat sautéed with ghee and sugar known as lapsi is prepared with curry of yard-long beans that signifies longevity. Goddess Lakshmi is worshipped with Lord Ganesha on this day, boondi laddoo is also kept as a part of offering to the God.
The second day is known as Naraka Chaturdasi or Chhoti Diwali (small Diwali) and celebrated differently in different parts of India. In West Bengal, this day comes with a bit of excitement, or you can call it Bengali’s way of celebrating Halloween (only they don’t surround themselves with a bunch of pumpkins). The day is called bhoot chaturdashi. The Bengalis light 14 lamps or diyas at home. “Some believe 14 lamps are lit in the name of 14 generation of ancestors or just to ward off evil spirits,” informs Rohini Chatterjee, a research scholar on history and culture of Bengalis. “There is a special preparation called choddo shak (14 kinds of leafy vegetables) for lunch this day. It would have been a lot of work but vegetable sellers will have bundles of the chosen 14 leaves ready to be chopped and cooked at home,” she adds.
Say ‘yes’ to non-veg
Though we hear this a lot that Diwali is vegetarian’s delight, that’s not the case in Kolkata. Rohini claims, “Animal sacrifice was once considered a must for Kali Puja, but now vegetables like bottle gourds or pumpkins are offered as a symbolic sacrifice. Though not animal sacrifice, the bhog or the prasadam prepared for goddess includes khichdi and mutton cooked without garlic and onion. In fact, Kali Puja is incomplete without the home-made mutton curry also known as kosha mansho in Bengali.”
The main celebration or Nombu celebrated in Tamil Nadu is mostly a vegetarian affair but the day before that remains strictly for non-vegetarian items for some Tamilians. Jaicy Maran, an IT professional from Chennai says, “On the day of Nombu, the elderly woman of the family wakes up early, takes bath and starts making athirasam, pounded rice flour and jaggery syrup mixed together and deep-fried.”
The fifth day of Diwali known as Bhai Duj or Bhai Phota or Bhav Bij is celebrated in many parts of India. “It’s celebrated by the sisters to protect their brothers from evil spirits. The Bengali celebrates bhai phota with various types of fish delicacies specially prepared by sisters for their brothers,” says Rohini.
On a sweet note
In Punjab, Diwali is celebrated by Sikhs after Bandi Chor Divas. Harsimran Kaur, a student from Punjab, says, “Diwali is a double celebration for Sikhs because Guru Hargobind Ji was released from prison and he reached Amritsar on Diwali. Gajar ka halwa, Punjabi pooda and Panjiri (sweet made with whole wheat flour) are prepared on this occasion.”
Gujaratis are known for their sweet nature and sweet food so their desserts live up to that claim. “Shrikhand, sweetened yogurt in traditional white and pink colours and Basundi, condensed milk with rich dry fruits, are two very popular Diwali desserts for us,” says Vikey Kotiya, a freelance food blogger from Gujarat.
“The two very popular Diwali sweets in Tamil Nadu are coconut barfi and Payasum. Coconut barfi is sweet made from condensed milk and is cut into little squares and has a dominant coconut flavor,” said Jaicy. In Kerala, Kheer or rice pudding made with jaggery, milk, and rice is considered auspicious and Ilayapam is a must have during Diwali.
In Karnataka and Maharashtra Puran Poli or Holige/Obbattu, a sweet pancake with a filling of powdered jaggery and coconut, flattened and laden with dollops of ghee is a special delicacy. “You need a lot of patience and experience is needed to prepare this dish. A pinch of turmeric makes it look yellowish. Mysore Pak, a rich sweet dish prepared with clarified butter and gram flour, is a must try if you are in Karnataka during Diwali. RavaLaddoo, BesanLaddoo and Karanjee/Gujiya in Maharashtra,” says Yamini Walke, a home-maker.
A guilt-free Diwali
Diwali and sweet delicacies go hand-in-hand, so it is very difficult situation for the one who wants to avoid the unavoidable bloating. However, following some clever tricks you can avoid gaining those extra curbs, Dr Heema Nandi, a dietitian, says, “You can prepare your body for Diwali that means you need to be a bit careful with your diet from few days in advance. Warm water with lemon and avoiding fried carbohydrates will do the 70 percent of the job for you. You can also avoid eating deep fried sweets; drink a lot of water and regular exercise.” If can’t avoid sweets at all, try low-Calones! “These sweets taste no different than normal sweets and some are even better if prepared properly. Use low-fat milk and curd while preparing the sweets,” says chef Namrata Kulkarni.