When I wake up to the smell of ghee and butter in the air, that’s how I know Deepavali preparations have begun in my house. Growing up, all festive cookies and treats have always been homemade as I watch my mother spend hours in the kitchen after coming back from her full-time job, as she pumps out tray after tray of delicious, freshly-baked treats.
"Why are you always so semangat to tirelessly bake during Deepavali?”,I once asked my mom. “It’s tradition”, she replied. My mom picked up her love and knowledge of baking from her mom (my grandma). Now, my sister and I have also picked up a thing or two from observing them both, and we try to help out as much as possible - especially taking note of precious family recipes that have been passed down.
My dad usually takes charge of the more savoury snacks, especially everyone’s favourite - Murukku.
Apart from these goodies, pre-deepavali celebrations also include getting the house ready for guests - and that means cleaning and decorating. In terms of cleaning, my mom makes it a point to ensure freshly-washed sheets, curtains and mats across the house. Other than that, it’s just your basic house maintenance stuff.
As for decorations, my family gets a little extra sometimes. We’re a very “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” household, and try our best to incorporate those practices in any way that we can, even during Deepavali!
We also set up lamps and kolam as part of decorations too. The kolam that we make in my house is different from the traditional “coloured rice” kolam that is typically featured in malls. Our kolam is white and made with rice flour. It serves the same traditional purpose of a kolam, which is to feed birds or any other critter that come across it.
Oh boy, does chaos ensure. You might think that weeks of preparation would allow for a calm, seamless day but every Deepavali eve is a hustle and bustle of events. It is literally the final countdown. My dad would be running around to the shops to get some fresh flowers and fruits for our prayers at night, while my mom creates a world of stunning aromas in the kitchen with her cooking.
Every Deepavali Eve, my family holds a prayer in our little prayer room at home. We sing bhajans, do puja by placing fresh flowers to the deities during prayers and offer an array of tasty vegetarian treats to the Gods.
The end of night prayers mark the beginning of festivities! Everyone will indulge in my mom/grandma’s mouth-watering Samaa chicken curry, paired with freshly made Thosai to soak up all the glorious gravy. Writing about it makes me salivate!
Once everyone’s bellies are full and happy, the adults gather around to watch a movie while the children go out to play Pattas or firecrackers in the spirit of Deepavali!
After a long night of fun with firecrackers, I’m woken up by my grandma calling to me to come to the prayer room. On the morning of Deepavali, everyone in my family heads to the prayer room to get a “Morning Oil Bath” from the eldest person of the household, which in my case is my grandma. Essentially, she rubs Nallenai oil (Gingelly oil) on my head, giving me a mini head massage with it. I’m not entirely sure if this is true, but I grew up believing that this practice is a way for me to cleanse my karma and wash away any negativity and toxicity within. Upon the oil rub, I will then proceed to have my bath as usual.
Dressing up on Deepavali is super fun. The colours, the jewellery, the make-up - oh, all the possibilities! Sometimes my family decides to go for a “themed-look” with our traditional attire, whereas other years we just mix it up. My sister and I typically sport a punjabi suit, my mom a saree and my dad the traditional kurta.
My family hosts an open-house for lunch on Deepavali where we invite close family and friends to makan-makan. It’s always a lovely time to catch-up with everyone over some good food. The food is served at my house in a buffet-style. Over the years the menu looks something like this: tomato rice, chicken curry, prawn sambal, salad, mixed vegetables, kurma curry, and sambar.
Other than food, the next best thing about Deepavali day is the ang paos. Yes, we do it too! :D
Following lunch and ang-pao giving is usually a big,fat nap after lots of cleaning around the house. On Deepavali night, post-nap, we visit my grandparents who host a lovely dinner, mostly featuring vegetarian dishes as they are both on a vegetarian diet. It is also the time when my many cousins come together and make a ruckus with firecrackers! They go all out with the many oddly-named firecrackers, from the ever-famous Pop Pops to Chinese firecrackers - it’s enough to make anyone get into the festive spirit.
Deepavali is the festival of lights, hence my house will be brightly lit the entire night with light decorations and by leaving the porch lights on. It is also the reason why the action of playing with firecrackers is embraced and practiced. As dark skies appear on Deepavali day when we say goodbye to the Sun, every celebrating household will be the light source to signify the victory of “light over darkness” and “good over evil.”
If you’ve read this far, I truly hope you enjoyed reading my Deepavali experience as much as I loved writing about it. Happy Deepavali everyone. Here’s to another year!