Diwali - Festival of Lights

by Kiran Cheema

People are at the heart of who we are. Our aim is to transform the lives of those we touch without prejudice or discrimination. At Lucid, the magic we create relies on harnessing the unique, diverse and individual talents of those we work with. We strive to ensure that each person is empowered to bring their whole self to work so we can be fully inclusive and collaborate with a full heart – fulfilling the potential of everything we do and everyone we work with. Equally.

Lucid has an active diversity and inclusion council which follows a calendar of events that has been put together by its members; providing everyone with the opportunity to celebrate their whole selves.

This month it’s Diwali and Kiran Cheema shares both her knowledge and love of this special time, as well as a few amazing recipes:

Diwali derived from the Sanskrit word Deepavali, meaning ‘rows of lights’, is the Festival of Lights and symbolises the spiritual victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance. The festival takes place on the first sighting of the New Moon in the Hindu lunar month, Kartik. Although it is largely celebrated by Hindus, the occasion is also marked by Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists(1). Each religion has its own historical narrative for celebrating Diwali, but they all represent the victory of good over evil.  

For Hindus, the day is in honour of deities Rama and Sita’s return to Ayodhya after their 14-year exile. Prince Rama rescued his wife, Sita, who had been kidnapped by the rival King Ravana. It is also a celebration of the day Goddess Durga destroyed a demon called Mahisha. 

Sikhs celebrate Diwali because it is the day of the release of the sixth guru, Hargobind Singh, in 1619, after 12 years of imprisonment. It is also the day the foundation stone of the Golden Temple at Amritsar, the place of worship for Sikhs, was laid in 1577. 

Jains celebrate Diwali as it is the day their founder, Lord Mahavira, reached a state called Moksha or Nirvana (eternal bliss). 

Some Buddhists also celebrate Diwali to honour Emperor Ashoka’s decision to convert to Buddhism and follow a path of peace and enlightenment. 

Beyond these stories, Diwali is also a celebration of the Hindu goddess of wealth and good fortune, Lakshmi(2).  

The five days of Diwali 

Diwali takes place over a period of 5 days. Though widely celebrated, these days may have different names and additional meaning, but there is enough commonality to briefly describe each of them.  

Day 1: Dhanteras  

Dhanteras marks the beginning of the 5-day Diwali festivities. It is customary for people to clean their houses, so they are ready to welcome in the goddess Lakshmi. People pray to the goddess in the evening. Diyas (clay lamps) are lit to protect the household from the shadows of evil spirits. This year, Dhanteras falls on Tuesday 2 November 2021. 

Day 2: Naraka Chaturdashi 

According to Hindu tradition, the demon Narakasura was killed by Lord Krishna on the second day. Marking the coming end of the year in some regions of India, customs on this day are about cleaning the slate before the start of a new year and getting rid of anything bad. People get up early to wash and put on clean or new clothes. This year, Naraka Chaturdashi falls on Wednesday 3 November 2021. 

Day 3: Diwali 

Diwali itself falls on the third day. People celebrate by dressing up, lighting diyas and candles around their homes, setting off fireworks and exchanging gifts and sweets. Many people also visit their place of worship on this day and enjoy a delicious feast with their families. This year, Diwali falls on Thursday 4 November 2021. 

Day 4: Balipadyami 

The fourth day of Diwali is also the first day of the new year in the Hindu calendar and may also be known as Pratipada, Govardhan Puja or Annakut. Annakut means ‘mountain of food’, which is a giveaway that today is all about feasting. Tradition has it that on this day, Lord Krishna lifted Govardhan Hill to give local villagers shelter from torrential rains. Today, it is celebrated by the exchanging of gifts and sharing of food. This year, Balipadyami falls on Friday 5 November 2021. 

Day 5: Bhai Bij 

The fifth day celebrates the relationship between brother and sister. On this day, sisters invite their brothers to join them for a feast of their favourite dishes. Sisters pray to God for the wellbeing and longevity of their brothers. In return, brothers follow their responsibilities of caring for and loving their sisters, and may also present gifts. This year, Bahi Bij is celebrated on Saturday 6 November 2021 (3). 

What food is eaten during Diwali? 

Each region of India has its own favourite dishes. Some popular savoury starters include samosas (fried pastries typically filled with spiced potatoes, onions and peas), pakoras (fried spiced fritters made with potatoes, onions and gram flour), aloo tikki (croquettes made with potatoes and peas), and chana masala (spiced chickpeas).  

Main meals may include vegetarian dishes such as dhal (dried split lentils) and paneer (Indian soft cheese made with strained, curdled milk) and curried meat dishes such as butter chicken or keema (minced lamb), served with flatbreads such as roti or naan.  

Mithai (Indian sweets) are a favourite at Diwali. They are a cross between snacks, desserts and confectionery. WARNING: they are usually very sweet! Examples include barfi (made with milk powder, sugar and ghee), besan (made with gram flour, sugar, ghee and cardamom powder) and ladoo (fried balls made with gram flour and sugar). These sweets taste good on their own or with a mug of masala chai.  

Other desserts often eaten at Diwali include gulab jamun (dumplings in syrup), jalebi (deep-fried pretzel made from corn flour and soaked in syrup) and kheer (rice pudding).  

I’m sure some of you reading this might fancy having a go at making some delicious food for Diwali, so I’ve pulled together some recipes below.  

Vegetable samosa  

Makes roughly 24 samosas  

Ingredients:  

For the filling 

  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil 
  • 1 onion, finely chopped  
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed 
  • 1 potato, finely diced  
  • 1 carrot, finely diced 
  • 100 g frozen peas 
  • 2 tsp curry powder or your own spices according to taste 
  • 100 ml vegetable stock  

For the pastry 

  • 225 g plain flour 
  • 2 tsp salt 
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil 
  • 2 L vegetable oil to deep-fry 

Method:  

  1. To make the filling, heat the oil in a frying pan, add the onion and garlic, mix in the spices and fry for 10 minutes until soft 
  2. Add the vegetables and stir well until coated. Add the stock, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes until cooked. Leave to cool 
  3. To make the pastry, mix flour and salt into a bowl. Make a well in the centre, add the oil and 100ml water to make a firm dough 
  4. Knead the dough on a floured surface for 5–10 minutes until smooth and roll into a ball 
  5. Cover in cling film and set aside at room temperature for 30 minutes 
  6. Divide the pastry into 12 equal pieces, then shape each piece into a ball and roll out into a circle of 15cm. Divide this circle into two equal pieces with a knife 
  7. Brush each edge with a little water and form a cone shape around your fingers, sealing the dampened edge 
  8. Fill with 1 tbsp of the potato mixture and press the two dampened edges together to seal the top of the cone. Repeat with the remaining pastry 
  9. Heat the oil in a large, deep saucepan to 180⁰C. The oil should come one third of the way up the pan. Deep-fry the samosas in batches for 8–10 minutes until crisp and brown 
  10. Take out and drain on kitchen paper, then enjoy with a chutney, ketchup or on their own! 

White barfi (Indian sweet) 

Makes roughly 20 pieces 

Ingredients: 

  • 500 g full fat milk powder 
  • 300 ml whole milk or condensed milk 
  • 130 g ghee or butter 
  • 150 g granulated or icing sugar 
  • Optional topping: Nuts or desiccated coconut  

Method: 

  1. Line a baking tin with greaseproof paper or baking parchment 
  2. Heat the whole milk or condensed milk in a large, non-stick pan. Add the ghee or butter and allow it to melt 
  3. Add the sugar and stir until it has completely dissolved  
  4. Add the milk powder and stir well to combine until the mixture has thickened  
  5. Cook the mixture on a low heat for about 5–10 minutes, stirring all the time to ensure it does not burn. The barfi mixture is ready when it is thick and forms a soft mass that can be rolled into a ball 
  6. Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin. There is the option to add desiccated coconut or nuts to the mixture at this stage. Press the mixture down to ensure an even surface 
  7. Allow to cool to room temperature, then store in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before turning the mixture out 
  8. Cut into squares and enjoy! 

Happy Diwali!  

References 

  1. Celebrating Diwali in India. https://www.transindus.co.uk/inspiration/blog/celebrating-diwali-in-india/. 11 November 2020. [Last accessed October 2021]. 
  2. Diwali: What is it? BBC Newsround. https://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/15451833. 21 October 2020. [Last accessed October 2021]. 
  3. Diwali around the world in 2021. OfficeHolidays. https://www.officeholidays.com/holidays/diwali. [Last accessed October 2021]. 

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