The festival and feasting of Diwali

Mon 12 Nov 2012 @ 17:04
Author Jamie Mag team

Diwali, also known as the festival of lights, begins this year on November 13th. For Hindus, Diwali is one of the most important festivals of the year and is celebrated by families coming together, performing traditional activities, exchanging gifts particularly sweets and chocolates, decorating their houses with beautiful lights and spectacular firework displays. Diwali celebrates the power of light over dark, good over evil and means ‘a row of lamps’. For many Indians this five-day festival also honors Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, different parts of India celebrate with different traditions. At the heart of this five-day celebration is extensive feasting. Last year London chef Atul Kochhar of Benares shared the memories and dishes that make Diwali so spectacular. Here's what he had to say...

“I still celebrate Diwali the same way as when I was growing up. I don’t have a large family in the UK, but we live in a small village where there are a few Indian families. We worship in our own homes, then everyone gets together to eat. We all bring a few dishes, though everyone looks to me to bring most of the food! It’s often a long evening and you head home early in the morning rather than late at night.
The Diwali traditions I follow come from being a north-Indian boy growing up in east India. But if you look at someone from Gujarat, they will have different ways of celebrating. There are essential rules: the house will be painted and spring-cleaned; new clothes will be given to the family; a puja will be held – this is a ceremony devoted to the deities Lakshmi and Lord Ganesha; the extended family will bring dishes and eat together; and then there will be fireworks. But when it comes to costumes and food, things can vary greatly – although everyone follows a vegetarian diet, it being a time of worship.
As a country, India is very diverse. The majority of people are Hindu, but from north to south, east to west, everyone differs so much, it’s funny that we believe in the same gods and goddesses. So you could say that Hinduism is more a way of life, rather than a religion. What is interesting about Diwali and other religious festivals is that the diversity is reflected in the food.
I believe Diwali has evolved into a celebration of feasting more than anything else – less to do with religion and everything to do with getting a food fix. Sweets play a hue role, and Indian patisserie is more complex than Western patisserie. Different regions have unique traditions based on staple ingredients in that area, but often milk, rice and even lentils are used. Some of the finest sweets come from Calcutta, where they are artisans when it comes to making sweets with milk. As for savoury food, there’s always lots of snacks and deep-fried fare.”

For some of Atul Kochhar’s recipes click here for potato cakes from north India,savoury pancakes from west India and a pudding common across the whole country.

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