New threads, gifts and all types of sweets galore. That’s right: it’s Deepavali. And here we thought Christmas was commercialized.
But what exactly is Deepavali, why and how do we celebrate it? Derived from Sanskrit, “deepa” meaning light or lamp and “avali” meaning path or row, is commonly referred to as the “Festival of Lights”.
The root of where and how the day came to be and the traditions associated with Deepavali is varied to regions. In most regions, the common belief is that it marks the celebration of Lord Ram and Sita returning to Ayodhya from 14 years of exile. In some, it’s to celebrate Goddess Lakshmi getting married to Lord Vishnu/Lord Krishna. The concept is the same as it celebrates the triumph over evil or the prevail of goodness and peace, and knowledge over ignorance.
In Tamil Nadu, India, and Sri Lanka, Deepavali celebrates Lord Krishna defeating Narakasura. It is believed that Narakasura, a demon tortured innocent people and they asked Lord Krishna to annihilate him. The people then celebrated Narakasura’s defeat by Lord Krishna— aided by Goddess Lakshmi—with lighting arrows on fire, beat drums and lamps. This day is Narakasura Chaturdashi which is the night before Deepavali, starting off the celebrations of the battle and ensuing victory.
On this day, it is traditional for people to take an oil bath in the morning between 4 am and 6 am (believed to be like an auspicious time when Lakshmi prevails), wear new clothes, exchange gifts, perform poojas, and a visit to the Hindu temple. Lighting firecrackers in the evening of the festival is common, though not traditional as it was adopted way later in history, since it was more accessible to everyone than drums.
Hindus light oil lamps as way to invite Goddess Lakshmi, to get rid of evil or negative energy from the home. Devotees honour Lord Ganesha, Lord Krishna, Lord Ram and Sita, and Lord Shiva on the day as well. In Sri Lanka, another tradition is the making of figures out of rock sugar (katkandu) known as Misiri.
Contrary to popular belief, Tamils actually don’t light the whole house with lamps until Karthikai Deepam (that will be for another piece) but has adapted to that tradition over time.
Deepavali celebrations in Tamil Nadu are the same as Sri Lankan Tamils’ traditions except that in addition after their bath, a home-made medicine known as “Deepavali Legiyam” or Deepavali medicine is taken to aid with digestion of all the food that’s going to be eaten during the celebrations.
And of course, how could anyone forget the desserts? There are many desserts some of you may not know that exist in Tamil cuisine. Besides the usual kozhukattai, aval, thotthal, paniyaram, payasam, sweet pongal, and modakam, there are desserts such as kummayam, pidi kozhukattai, vappan, mysore pak, and susiyam. Aalangai puttu is another rare one, which is made with rice flour, urid dhal flour, jaggery, and cardamom/cardamon. The method of preparation for the dough is the same as regular puttu but not as small and fine. It’s rolled by hand into small balls and then steamed.
Celebrations officially begin two days before Deepavali and ends two days after. Because of busy schedules and due to the fact that Deepavali is not recognized as an official holiday in most countries outside of Asia—the ones with a large Hindu diaspora—people mostly only celebrate the day of and usually with very limited time. Here’s to hoping that Deepavali gets recognized as an official holiday all over Canada following suit of the United States.
Like all holidays or religious holidays, it’s a great day to get together with family and friends; whether it’s burying the hatchet over old grudges, starting anew, and/or just wishing everyone wellness and good fortune. A great thing about Deepavali is that people of all religions and backgrounds celebrate it, emphasizing the sense of unity.
And for some, it marks the release of their favourite actor’s film (*coughs* Ajith fans *coughs*). On that note, I guess good really does overcome evil on Deepavali, in more ways than one. Haha, see what I did there? Nope? I’ll just show myself out.