The festival, which is Nov. 7, gets its name from light (deep) and the row of clay lamps (avali) that folks in India light outside their homes to symbolize the inner light that protects us from spiritual darkness. It is based on the lunar calendar and is celebrated every autumn. There are many interpretations throughout the country, but the common thread that runs through them all symbolizes the victory of light over darkness, good over evil and knowledge over ignorance. The day of Diwali is usually preceded by a thorough house cleaning followed by shopping for new gold or silver jewelry and/or kitchen utensils. Women decorate the entrance of their homes with handmade mandalas filled with colored sand, rose petals, rice or dry flour. The mandala welcomes good luck and fortune.
Growing up in India, every year during Diwali, I remember seeing our neighborhood light up with ghee-infused candles. A sea of diyas (clay candles) flickered outside people’s homes, from mansions to huts, on a star-kissed night. However, much to my dismay, a trip a few years ago proved that diyas are out and electric lights are in! As the ancient land moves to modern times, sadly, some of the old customs are getting left behind.
My three best memories of Diwali are fireworks, new clothes and lavish foods. Beautifully decorated boxes of nuts, dry fruits and mithai (sweet fudge like Indian sweets) would start arriving a few days leading up to Diwali. On Diwali day, the day would begin with dressing up in new clothes and exchanging warm hugs and greetings with neighbors and family. We’d graze on decadent ghee-laden parathas, crunchy pakoras with tangy chutneys and mithai all day long. We would impatiently sit through the Laxmi (goddess of wealth) prayer ceremony my mother would perform at sunset, awaiting the dinner of a luscious seven-vegetable stew with piping-hot puffy pooris and rice pudding.
The stew in today’s recipe is a technique I have borrowed from Burmese cooking. Making a roux out of chickpea flour adds a tremendous depth of flavor to the curry without having to use onions or garlic. If the idea of making pooris, deep-fried balloon bread, turns you off, use the same dough to make rotis. Or keep it simple and just make a pot of rice. The glorious persimmons of Texas hanging off trees and filling the markets remind me of the luscious custard apples of India and play beautifully in the cardamom-saffron-scented rice pudding. A very Happy Diwali to you all!