When my friend/roommate jokingly asked me “what plans for diwali?”, knowing that none of our plans sound even close to interesting, I had no other choice but to join him with laughter. As I ponder over the options again, I laugh at how different my diwali means to me now. I wonder, “Is this what growing up feels like?”.

I, personally, love the night before diwali. Our family has this traditional practice to offer gods the previous night with the sweets and savouries that were diligently prepared that day and the new clothes that were bought for each member of the family for the festival. As a kid, I used to help my mom with the ritual of dabbing a pinch of turmeric on one corner of all of our new clothes before the offering. I still remember piling up these items on a wooden ‘manai’ or plank, as part of the offering. A special part about this ceremonial offering is the preparation of ‘nalangu’, a red colored concoction prepared by mixing lime with turmeric, which will be applied the next morning on the feet of each family member as part of the traditional oil bath ritual.

During my childhood, every diwali morning started off with me being forced to wake up at 4am for the oil bath or ‘ganga snanam’ as my paati/grandma calls it. She says, “it is believed that on this chaturdashi day, Goddess Mahalakshmi resides in gingelly oil and the water represents the holy river Ganges. So by taking a gingelly oil bath early in the morning, we get the blessings of Mahalakshmi and mother Ganga.” My paati starts off the ritual by applying ‘nalangu’ on my feet and by feeding me a betel leaf, sometimes with sugar stuffed. She then places 7 droplets of warm gingelly oil on my thigh while chanting the names of 7 of the great chiranjeevis and connects them. What follows is the oil massage which ranges from head to toe and a hot shower.

Another special thing that stands out to me is the diwali ‘marundhu’ or ‘legiyam’, which certainly deserves a mention here. As part of the morning oil bath ritual I’d also be fed a spoonful of this dark delicacy. It’s supposed to be consumed as a precaution to the food binging that follows later that day of deep-fried snacks and ghee-laden sweets. Essentially, it’s the best cure for the gluttony that is inescapable during this day of festival of lights. ‘Marundhu’ literally translates to medicine in Tamil. That’s because it is made with ingredients that have medicinal properties. The medicine is then flavored with ghee and jaggery to achieve the desired texture and consistency. The sweetness from honey and jaggery and the fiery spice from ginger and peppercorns creates a delightful gastronomical experience which leaves one gasping for air. This sensory melange almost makes one forget that this is supposed to be consumed as a medicine.

After relishing every Bakshanam made at home and also the ones received from our relatives, my family concludes the diwali night by watching the fireworks from the terrace or rooftop of our building. While none of this comes close to how I celebrate diwali now, I’m grateful beyond words that I had such a hands-on, interesting experience during my childhood. What were your memories ? :)

Have a wonderful diwali !

 - Sai Kiran, Storyteller - Sweet Karam Coffee