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What Diwali Means to Me

Diwali brings many sweet memories of my childhood. Every year without fail our house would get a fresh coat of paint. Dad would be busy taking orders for sweets and savories as early as three months in advance. Clothes shopping was the highlight for me, as each of us would receive two to three new sets. We would start shopping when Dad received his first orders, as ready made clothes were not as popular or available back then. We shopped for the fabric and got our clothes made by the tailor.

The house used to smell like heaven with such a variety of sweets and savories being made by my dad and his team. They made boondi laddoo, rava laddoo, coconut laddoo, jangiri, adhirsam, halwa, gajjikka, mysorepak, badusha, milk cake, mixture, murukku, omapodi and more, and they didn't make 20-30 of each, but usually 500 - 1000. Everyone, including the kids, was involved with the packing and labeling. People would visit throughout the day to collect their orders, and the conversations would usually concern relatives visiting from South India for the occasion.

On the day of Diwali we would be woken up as early as 3 am for an oil bath. Oil baths symbolize new beginnings, as they remove all the ego, birse, fights, self esteem and jealousy. My Mum would make ayurvedic oil from sesame oil, jeera and pepper pods. According to Hindu mythology, early morning baths signify the destruction of evil within us and are as sacred as bathing in the river Ganges. After the shower, we would receive our new clothes from our parents with blessings. We would dress up, participate in family pooja, and light up diyas in and around the houses to seek the blessings of goddess Lakshmi. Relatives and friends would visit, exchange sweets and savories and the family feast would go on until late afternoon.

We eagerly awaited evening for the opportunity to wear another set of new clothes, usually cotton, for the ritual lamp lighting in and around the house. Then I would enjoy the fireworks with my brothers, who supervised me because I was the youngest. It was so much fun, the excitement of the crackers and popping would make the whole festival totally worth the wait.

What was most humbling was dad sending out individual gift packs to all his staff family.  He exactly knew which family needed clothes and who need the money.  He wanted to ensure no one missed out celebrating Diwali.  A lesson learnt for me is we should be thankful for what we have and have the heart to share what we can with those who are not that blessed.

One dish that particularly sticks out in my mind is a vermicelli and milk dish called semiya payasam. To make semiya payasam, vermicelli is fried and simmered in milk. Then flavored with green cardamom powder or saffron, before sugar or jaggery is added for the sweetness. Words cannot describe how yummy it was. My mum would make a large quantity for Diwali, and there were no restrictions placed on how much we are allowed to eat. This meant we had access to sweets and savories around the clock.

I miss the festivity that was in the air as a child in India during Diwali. Here in New Zealand I make a special effort to keep the tradition alive, as I would like to revive the fond memories and make some new ones for my kids.

For this Diwali, I wish all of you health, prosperity and lots of love. Namaste

 

You can read more about Diwali and my customs in this STUFF article:

Food, family and time together: How New Zealand's Indian foodies celebrate Diwali

 

Semiya Payasam     Diwali sweets 

 

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