Deepavali – the sweets and savouries story!
India and the festive spirit
India is rightly called the land of festivals. Its multi ethnical, multi lingual, multi cultural population and the vast geographical territory are some of the reasons for its festivities and celebrations that knows no boundaries.
All the festivals are celebrated with so much vigor and colour. And the energy with which the people rejoice and glorify each event is a splendid sight. Till today these festivals are celebrated by each household with the same spirit not only because of the sheer joy and happiness involved, but mainly because of those people who want to take forward these unique traditional customs to the next generation.
With each celebration, when it comes to the customs and rituals involved, there are so many questions asked and probed by the younger ones and answers explained by the older ones. But when the younger ones become older, the same spirit of celebration with customs and rituals comes active again with some or many changes in life style. Deepavali is one such celebration. It is celebrated in many parts of India in different ways.
Deepam and Tamilnadu
I am unable to track the origin of Deepavali in Tamilnadu. If anyone has any kind of detail regarding this, please do communicate. In Tamilnadu, karthigai deepam is called the festival of lights. Karthigai Deepam is celebrated in the tamil month of karthigai which falls in November-December.
‘Karthigai Deepam’ is one of the oldest festivals celebrated by the Tamil people. One of the earliest references to the festival is found in Ahananuru, which dates back to the Sangam period (200 B.C. to 300 A.D.) The Ahananuru clearly states that Kaarthigai is celebrated on the full moon day of the Tamil month of Karthigai and mentioned that it was the primary festival of the ancient Tamils. Avaiyyar, the renowned poetess of Sangam age portrayed the festival in her songs………… Unlike many other Hindu festivals, Karthigai Deepam is basically a Tamil festival and is virtually not known in other parts of India’(http://tamilnadu.com/tamilnadu/main/common/tamilnadufestival.jsp?festival=Karthigai%20Deepam).
Tolkappiyam, The earliest tamil grammatical treatise, the dating of which has been debated among various scholars also mentions about deepam -
‘Evidence from Tamil literature proves that this festival is one of the oldest in the state. In ancient Tamil literature, the oldest available work Tolkappiyam gives in concise verse form rules for Tamil grammar as well as other topics. Scholars agree that this work dates back to 2,000 or 2,500 BC. In one of the formulae Tolkapiyar in his treatise uses the phrase “like the lamp’s flame pointing upwards.” This phrase, says one of the commentators, refers to the beacon lit on the Annamalai Hill, which burns brightly without flickering in the wind, and flares up towards the sky’ (http://www.kerala-tourism.net/tamilnadu/tamilnadu-fair-festivals.html).
According to Wikipedia, ‘Some scholars prefer to date it not as a single entity but in parts or layers which are estimated as written between the third century BCE and the fifth century CE’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Date_of_the_Tolkappiyam).
We shall talk about karthikai deepam after Deepavali celebrations.
Deepavali and Tamilnadu
Karthigai Deepam can be called the traditional deepam festival of the Tamils. Though Pongal, Tamil Puthaandu (New Year) and Karthigai Deepam are the major tamil festivals, Deepavali has a special place.
In so many years now, Deepavali has also taken its place among the major festivals. Deepavali is a culmination of the two Sanskrit words Deepam and Avali. Deepam means light and avali means a row. The display of the row of lamps at home and crackers throughout the day and few days before and after is a fascinating sight. It is regarded as the celebration of the victory of good over evil.
It is celebrated as the victory of Lord Krishna over the demon Narakashura. It is marked by new dresses, sweets and savouries distributed to friends and relatives and bursting fire crackers.
After marriage, the first Deepavali of the newly married couple is called ‘Thalai Deepavali’ and is celebrated with extra pomp and pride. If one is married in December, then Deepavali in somewhere October or November the next year is the Thalai Deepavali for the couple though they might not fall under the ‘newly married’ category!
The Deepavali Day
The day starts very early with an oil bath – applying gingelly oil on hair and shampooing with shikakai – the traditional shampoo powder made of herbs. Then the new dresses purchased would be kept in front of God and the auspicious turmeric powder would be kept like a dot in an unknown corner and the dresses transferred to each member of the house.
After dresses, comes food – special deepavali pujai snacks are prepared fresh in the morning (athirasam, appam and a few more). Morning pujai with all the sweets and savouries made – kids eyes closed and hands put together in vanakkam position (greeting the tamil way), but mind wandering on which sweet or snack to taste first!
Then comes tasting – that seems to be beyond words.. After tasting and having breakfast, comes distribution of sweets and savouries to neighbourhood and friends and family. This is mainly the task of the girls of the house. Some of the houses we go and some guests come home to deliver. It is basically exchange of goodies and good wishes – and we greet each other – ‘Deepavali Vaazhthukkal!’
Deepavali would be incomplete without crackers.. Irrespective of the age, there is a cracker or firework for all.
Deepavali and dosaikal
I thought of starting this as a Deepavali Sweets and Savouries special series! In most of the houses, preparation for Deepavali in terms of sweets and savouries starts about two or three days before. Apart from the fresh sweets made for the pujai or worship on the special day, there are a lot more sweets which have to be made before hand and these can be stored for weeks, and especially savouries for even months. After distributing to friends and relatives, it would be a daily evening snack or throughout the day snack and would be ultimately over within days is another different issue.
My memory goes many years behind, where the grinding of kadalai maavu/bengal gram flour for kara sevu, arisi maavu and ulundha maavu/rice flour and urad flour for murukkus, paasi paruppu maavu/yellow lentil flour for nei urundai, plain arisi maavu for athirasam would start nearly four days before Deepavali. The dining area would be filled with thookuchattis (tall vessel with handle to store flours and snacks later) with different flours in them. The aroma of the snacks would start spreading the house two days before Deepavali. I would be sitting on the floor with aachi and amma, watching them make Pathirpeni (deep fried flat cakes covered in powdered sugar), Poli (channa dal-sugar mixture filled flat cakes), Gulab Jamun (deep fried sweet dumplings in sugar syrup) – to mention a few of the sweets and different kinds of murukkus, thattais and mixtures – some of the savouries. That is how I learnt to make the very special kai-murukku.
When I was thinking of explaining Murukku, I just visited Wikipedia and got a beautiful definition. Murukku is made out of a combination of rice and urad flour. ‘The mixture is made into a batter, mechanically extruded, formed into a spiral or coil, and fried to a crisp. Murukku can also be rolled into a flat ribbon (ribbon murukku) or shaped by hand (kai murukku). Kai suthu murukku (Hand spun) is prepared by getting a string of dough and twisting it while winding it into a ring. This process is very hard, requires patience and is highly technical work.’
This is the speciality of kai murukku. Though I have half forgotten the art of kai murukku, learnt from aachi (my paternal grandmother), the next sentence in Wikipedia definition made me think of practicing it again seriously – ‘This profession is in high demand and is paid very well’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chakli)!
Any festival or celebration comes with a teaching note.. Deepavali I think in our households has taught us patience and self resistence. The sweets and savouries prepared and ready but lids closed, would not be allowed to be tasted till pujai on the day of Deepavali. The aroma of the sweets and murukkus spread over the whole house and the whole locality (each house’s speciality), everyone waits eagerly and patiently for the first bite – allowed only after it is displayed in front of the Gods and tasted by them!
Nowadays, with both members of the family working, and less time to spend in kitchen, youngsters becoming more conscious of the fat content, children of many families working or settled abroad and eventually lonely parents, buying sweets and savouries - both traditional and modern(?!) from sweet shops has become common. Distribution among friends is still a living element – thankfully. Though some important sweets for pujai are made at home.
deepams arranged on traditional kolam
Why Deepavali series so early?
I know this is going to be a great learning experience for me – trying to make those mouth watering sweets and savouries – some for the first time! That is why I thought, if I could start a little early, might be I could make more goodies in a relaxed way – experimenting stress free.. I would also be happy to learn new recipes from any of you – my friends!
So let us celebrate Deepavali together!! This year Deepavali falls on October 26th (2011).