I wish my readers a happy Puthandu and Aluth Avurudda. It is India’s new year season. Each state has their own new year day. Today is an auspicious day of Puthandu (Tamil new year) and Aluth Avurudda (Sinhalese/Srilankan new year). Though are called by different names, Tamil and Srilankan new year falls on the same day, yet customs are a little different.
Dates are sugars with sweet benefits. They are nutrition powerhouse. Dates are wonderfully delicious super fruits which carry natural sugar and high fiber. A natural toffee without plastic wrap. If you are like me – not keen on sweets made of white sugar, flour, and other low-quality ingredients, while maintaining a healthy lifestyle, then meet your new BFF. Adding dates to your diet is the smart decision. With some planning and knowledge, you can safely replace white sugar with dates in several recipes. Cutting down processed sugars is tough. Scoring the health benefits, dates make your life sweet.
The weather is dry and bright. The people are gathering their diyas, cooking like crazy, and preparing for the influx thousands of tourists and the homecoming of far-flung loved ones. All of Mumbai, indeed all of India, is full to bursting with anticipation. This can only mean one thing: Diwali is upon us!
Often known (and literally translated) as the Festival of Lights, Diwali is one of the most sacred and beloved events in the Hindu calendar. Though it’s officially a holiday in 11 other countries (and one province in Pakistan), Diwali is most lavishly celebrated in India and Mumbai, its largest city. While the scripture behind Diwali varies between Hindu traditions, all celebrate a common theme: the power of humankind, guided by the light of self-control, furthered knowledge and compassion for others, to triumph over darkness and evil. In many traditions, Diwali marks the veneration of Lakshmi, Goddess of Wealth and Prosperity, and Dhanvantari, God of Hope and Healing.
With such a meaning, you’d expect bursts of color and light as far as the eye can see, and Diwali doesn’t disappoint! The whole of India hangs diyas, or colored lights, outside windows and doorways; they burn throughout the festival nights. Colorful floor decorations called rangoli dot the floors of homes and businesses. The streets are ablaze with lights, fireworks, and colored powder and abuzz with shopping and celebration akin to the West’s Christmas observance.
Bandaru Laddu is also known as Thokudu Laddu – one of Andhra’s most favorite sweet. They are originated in a place called “Machilipatnam” in the state of Andhra Pradesh, India. The so-called modern day Machilipatnam used to be called “Bandaru”. Hence the name Bandaru Laddu. These laddus made by pounding the fried besan murukus. In the Telugu language which is spoken in the state of Andhra Pradesh Pounding is called tokkudu. Hence the name Tokkudu Laddu. Bandaru laddu, with its striking and smooth velvety texture melt right in your mouth.
Like most cultural celebrations, food forms a major part of the Diwali experience. Carts sell sweet and spicy food on nearly every street throughout the festival, and families and friends watch the festivities or relax afterwards over sweets. Food is also a major part of the Indian identity. Children grow up at their mothers’ apron strings, watching as families come together to cook and chat. As adults, they return to bring the family recipes to life and catch up on everything that’s happened between visits. To cook Indian food is a window into what it is to be Indian, and I intend to give each of my readers that authentic experience.
Welcome 5 day Diwali grand finale with Dhanteras. All India knows Dhanteras is about wealth and prosperity. Goddess Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, as well as the god of treasure Kuber, are welcomed to homes. Diyas, puja, new clothes, sweets, and rangoli are the main attraction of this auspicious day. Worshipping Goddess Lakshmi is believed to bring wealth and fortune. As the epic of King Hima’s wife explains how his wife saved husband from dying by placing a pile of gold and utensils. Epic started a tradition to purchase gold, silver jewelry, utensils and new clothes on this day.
Entire India is ready for Dasara aka Navratri. In Southern states, it is celebrated as Dasara, celebrating Rama’s victory over Ravana. It is celebrated as the victory of good over evil. As epic Ramayana describes the story of Rama. Rama was the prince of the Ayodhya kingdom banished into the forest by his step mother’s wish. While in the forest, with his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana. Sita was abducted by Ravana, the demon king of Lanka. Rama, assisted by an army of monkeys and Lakshmana, attacked Lanka to rescue her. The fierce battle went on for days between the two armies. It was difficult for Rama to kill powerful, compelling mighty Ravana. So he prayed for nine days to nine different avatars of goddess Durga and grew strength to defeat Ravana.
In the state of Telangana, batukamma is the largest festival, celebrated in grand scale for 9 days. Goddess Gauri a reincarnation form of Laxmi is worshipped on the name of Bathukamma. Of course, no celebration in any culture would be complete without food. 5 or 9 types of naivedyam (prasadam) called saddulu is offered to Goddess Gouri on the 9th day. Shown in the picture are Nimmakaya saddi, Nuvvula saddi, karivepaaku saddi, Palli saddi, perugu saddi and minappappu saddi. For those who don’t know the Telugu language, they are lemon rice, sesame seeds rice, curry leaves rice, peanut rice, curd rice, and black gram (urad dal) rice.
Bathukamma is unique flower festival celebrated in the state of Telangana, India. It is a highly enthusiastic festival, especially for women. It represents Telangana’s culture. Bathukamma is a beautiful round flower arrangement with colorful seasonal flowers stacked in the shape of temple gopuram. The arrangement signifies the Gouri goddess Bathukamma. Flowers used to make Batukamma are Bera, Thangedu, Thamara, Gunugu, Banthi, Gummadi, Kanakambaram, Mandhara, and Ramabanam. Women arrange floral batukammas beyond their creativity. Women dress up in their best, expensive pure silk sarees, wear jewelry. In the evening, all women carry plates of flowers to a nearby lake, arrange all in a circular shape. They dance around batukammas clapping rhythmically with traditional songs praising the goddess and to take birth again.
This is the time of the year 9 sacred days are celebrated in large scale. Though they are called different names, celebrated differently, worshipping avatars of Durga is common. Navratri, Mysuru Dasara, Batukamma, Kullu Dussehra, Durga Puja, Nadahabba etc. This high-spirit festival is celebrated in many different ways. Some fast, some feast, some jagaran (not sleeping thru the night), some dance every night, some worship with high devotion.
Onam is celebrated in the state of Kerala, in southern India. Onam is a 10-day harvest festival, also welcoming of the great King Mahabali. It’s a festival of rich in tradition, culture, food, rituals, and heritage. Onam is celebrated in the beginning of the month of Chingam, the first month of Malayalam Calendar – state of Kerala, India. Though the important day of Onam (known as Thiru Onam) in 2017 is on September 4, the festival starts 10 days before Thiru Onam, on Atham (August 25).
In the state of Kerala, India, Onam is a high spirited festival. Kochi, Trivandrum, Thrissur, Ernakulam, and Kottayam cities burst with colors, pookalam, the flower arrangements, prayers, traditional dance, music, and procession.