Deepavali or Diwali, India’s ‘Festival of Lights,’ is one of the most celebrated festivals in the country. But beyond the shimmering lamps, colourful rangolis, and joyous fireworks, there lies a deep-rooted culinary tradition that forms an essential part of this grand celebration. While the festivities bring a visual treat with lights and decorations, the kitchen too, becomes a hub of activity, echoing with the sounds of sizzling, roasting, grinding and simmering. But have you ever paused to wonder why certain foods are traditionally prepared and consumed during Diwali? Let’s delve deeper into the significance of food during this festive time.
Historical and Mythological Significance
The culinary traditions of Deepavali are as ancient as the festival itself. Many of the dishes prepared during this time have their roots in India's rich tapestry of myths and legends. For instance, the preparation of sweets and the distribution of them symbolises the sweetening of souls and the spreading of joy. This tradition is linked to the legend of Lord Rama returning to Ayodhya after 14 years of exile and defeating the demon king, Ravana. The people of Ayodhya celebrated this victorious return by lighting up their homes and preparing sweet dishes.
A Representation of Gratitude and Abundance
The festival of Deepavali coincides with the harvest season in many parts of India. Farmers offer their first harvest to the Gods as a gesture of gratitude. This is beautifully represented in the form of various dishes made from the new harvest, signifying abundance and prosperity. Poha, made from flattened rice, in Western India, or the making of Chakkali, a spiral snack made of rice flour, resonate with this sentiment of thanksgiving.
Symbolism in Ingredients and Dishes
Each ingredient and dish prepared during Deepavali carries a symbolism. The circular shape of the ‘Laddoo’ symbolises the cyclical nature of life. Similarly, Ghee is considered sacred and purifying in Hindu traditions. Its inclusion in Diwali recipes is a nod to its power to cleanse and purify the soul.
Unity in Diversity
Each region of India, with its unique culture and traditions, brings to the table a plethora of mouth-watering delicacies that are intrinsic to the Diwali celebrations, and raise its gastronomic quotient considerably.
This diversity in food, while rooted in regional cultures and traditions, brings out a unified spirit of celebration.
North India: A Sweet and Savoury Affair
The North celebrates Diwali with much pomp and grandeur. Amidst the glittering diyas and rhythmic dhol beats, kitchens come alive with the aroma of ghee-laden sweets and snacks.
- Gujia: This sweet dumpling is filled with a mixture of grated coconut, dry fruits, and khoya (reduced milk). It is deep-fried to perfection and often dipped in sugar syrup.
- Babru: For making this dessert, a dough of wholewheat flour and jaggery is leavened with yeast, and fried to perfection to yield a crispy, savoury delight loved by all.
West India: Flavours of Prosperity
In the western part of India, especially in states like Gujarat and Maharashtra, Diwali is synonymous with a range of snacks and sweets that are prepared in bulk and shared with loved ones.
- Shankarpali: Little diamond-shaped sweet morsels, made from a dough of milk, sugar, and ghee, are deep-fried until they turn golden and crispy.
- Karanji: These crescent-shaped scones are filled with a mixture of grated coconut and jaggery.
South India: A Symphony of Tastes
Down south, Diwali is celebrated with a different fervour. The food here is a blend of sweet, spicy, tangy, and crispy.
- Manoharam: A Telugu land favourite, this traditional savoury is made with long-grained rice, powdered jaggery, urad dal and ghee.
- Murukku: A crunchy spiral snack, it is made from rice flour and urad dal flour, seasoned with sesame seeds and cumin.
East India: Sweet Sensations
The eastern states, especially Bengal, are renowned for their sweets. Diwali is yet another occasion for them to showcase their confectionery masterpieces.
- Rasgulla: Soft and spongy cheese balls soaked in sugar syrup, this delicacy is a favourite not just in Bengal but across India.
- Sandesh: Made from fresh paneer or chhena, these are flavoured with cardamom or saffron and often garnished with pistachios or almonds.
Central India: Rustic and Rich Delights
The heart of India offers some hearty and rich dishes that are integral to the Diwali celebrations in this region.
- Poha Chivda: Flattened rice is roasted or fried with spices and nuts to make a crispy snack that's perfect to munch on during the festive season.
- Malpua: These are rich pancakes made from a batter of flour, milk, and ripe bananas or pineapples, deep-fried and soaked in sugar syrup.
And then there is Kheer or Payasam. Every celebration in India reaches a delicious crescendo with generous servings of this milk-based sweet preparation that takes myriad avatars.
Building Bonds and Strengthening Relationships
Food, during Diwali, is not just limited to one's home. It's shared with neighbors, friends, and extended family. Exchanging food items is a gesture of goodwill, camaraderie, and an opportunity to build bonds. The very act of preparing these dishes is a communal activity, where family members come together, each playing their part in the grand culinary production.
As we traverse through the different regions of India, it's evident that while Diwali is universally celebrated as the victory of light over darkness, every corner has its unique culinary traditions that add flavour to the festivities. These dishes, passed down through generations, are not just about tantalizing our taste buds but also about invoking a sense of nostalgia and bonding over shared memories.
So, whether you are in the snowy terrains of the North or the balmy shores of the South, the bustling cities of the West or the serene villages of the East, one thing is certain: Diwali is incomplete without its array of traditional delicacies.
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