We would help dad fill our house with diyas: small clay lamps which can be either plain or ornately decorated and coloured and which symbolise purity and goodness. Lighting these lamps at Diwali denotes leaving the darkness behind and travelling forward into the light – banishing evil and inviting good.
My whole family would be involved in the Diwali celebrations as a young girl. My siblings, friends and I would make gharonda – miniature houses – to encourage prosperity and peace. I remember making them on the eve of Diwali, creating bricks that we stuck with wet mud, leaving our creations to dry and then decorating them. We would then add diyas as well as khilone: small, edible sugar animals, which I was always desperate to eat straight away.
While my parents were busy with Diwali celebrations, my next-door neighbour, whom we called Bhabi, would narrate the tale of Prince Rama and his wife, Sita. An evil king kidnaps Sita, and she leaves a trail of jewels for Rama to follow. This sets the stage for a daring rescue mission. All the kids would listen intently as Bhabi continued the story. Rama enlists the help of the Monkey King and all the animals in the world. They form an alliance to find Sita and embark on a courageous journey. Everyone works together to build a bridge to the island where Sita is imprisoned. Their unity prevails, and Sita is rescued, showcasing the strength of cooperation. She condenses the story, explaining that the oil lamps that light up Diwali symbolise the path of Rama and Sita’s triumphant return home.
During Diwali, we would exchange gifts and sweets with family, friends and neighbours. We would light fireworks, another way to symbolise removing darkness. Some would play cards, which may seem an unusual pastime in a country such as India, where many forms of gambling are illegal. However, with Diwali celebrating Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, it is said that gambling on Diwali night can bring prosperity for the year ahead.
For me, Diwali is a captivating tale that intertwines the story of Prince Rama and my journey of understanding and unity. The essence of Diwali, for me, is embracing themes of cooperation, celebration, and love. The lessons of Diwali that I have learned in the past are woven into my life today.
Of course, food, as with any Indian festival, makes up a large part of the celebrations. Every Diwali, my mum would make a whole host of incredible sweet treats when Diwali came around. I loved the crunch of her crispy jalebi: deep-fried batter in attractive spiral shapes coated in lashings of sticky sugar syrup. If you try one Indian sweet recipe this Diwali, though, make it besan ki burfi: an Indian fudge made with gram flour and scented with aromatic cardamom.
The key to a successful burfi is patience and time. Toasting your gram (chickpea) flour in your choice of fat for 20 minutes may seem excessive, but without it, the burfi will taste raw. There is a delicate balance, though: over-toasting will give off a burnt flavour. Make sure the heat is low, and you stir the mixture continuously: when it transforms into a beautiful golden-yellow colour, you’ll know it’s done.
Besan ki burfi recipe
Makes a baking tray