Diwali Greetings dadima’s family. In today’s post, I’d like to shed some light onto the origins of Diwali. Luckily, I’m able to draw on the specialist knowledge of a friend for this. This guest post from Anuj is a refreshing reminder, that wisdom can also be passed up, as well as passed down through generations. In case any of you fancied making a sweet treat, as is customary on Diwali, I’ve included the recipe for carrot halwa at the bottom of the blog. Happy reading!
On Thursday 19th of November, we celebrate the ancient festival of Diwali, also known as the Festival of Lights. Diwali is a five-day festival celebrated by Hindus, Jains and Sikhs worldwide and it is one of the biggest, most joyous festivals in Indian culture.
There are many legends surrounding the celebration of Diwali. The most popular story, comes to us from the Ramayana. In this story, Lord Rama, the seventh incarnation of the God Vishnu, is said to have returned during this period from an exile of 14 years. It is believed that during his exile, Lord Rama defeated the demon and evil King Ravana. On Rama’s return, the residents of his capital city, Ayodhya, decorated and lit up their homes to celebrate his homecoming and victory. It is said that the lighting of candles and lamps symbolises this victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, and good over evil.
To mark the celebration, Hindus, Jains and Sikhs similarly light ghee lamps, candles and decorate their homes during the five days of Diwali. Families use the period as an opportunity to get together and join in collective prayer, whether at home or in the temple. The celebrations usually culminate in firework displays, family feasts and the exchange of gifts between family and friends.
This Diwali, let us reflect on the story of the Ramayana, the homecoming of Lord Rama, and what Lord Rama’s conduct teaches us about adherence to dharma, duty and truth. While celebrating, we should also take some time out to think of those who are less fortunate and who, by force of circumstances, will not be able to join in the festivities and celebrations. Shubh Diwali! Happy Diwali!
Thank you to dadima’s learned guest blogger, Anuj Ghai. Anuj works as a Antitrust Lawyer at a City Law Firm. In his spare time, Anuj enjoys reading books on Indian intellectual history and Hindu theology.
Gorgeous gajrela (Carrot Halwa)
Gajrela, or gajar ka halwa, is a quintessential Indian dessert known to mark celebrations. Bholi, the dadima who taught me to make her version, brings that celebratory spirit to her everyday life. To her 10-year-old granddaughter, Bholi goes by the name of gorgeous. This dadima truly is gorgeous and her dessert is a labour of love. Knowing that her children and grandchildren light up when they taste her gajrela, Bholi doesn’t think twice about preparing it for their visits, welcoming them with a hot slice of gajrela and a little dollop of vanilla ice cream. What I love about this dish is that it keeps well for a few days in the fridge, and also freezes well – so I take full advantage and prepare ahead for a dinner party.
Serves 7-8 when cut into small Chunks
- 1 tiny stick of cinnamon
- Seeds of 2 brown cardamoms
- Seeds of 4 green cardamoms
- 2 and a half tablespoons solid ghee (or unsalted butter)
- 1kg peeled, grated carrots
- 500ml full fat milk
- 120g white sugar, or to taste
- 2 handfuls grated khoya (khoya is milk solids. You can buy this from some Indian supermarkets. Alternatively, see recipe in dadima’s book)
- 2 tablespoons roughly ground pistachios, plus a few chopped for garnish – around 10 ground and 2 chopped)
- 12 almonds, soaked overnight in water, peeled and crushed (keep a small amount aside for garnish)
- 1 and a half tablespoons melon seeds (available in packets from Indian supermarkets)
- Grind the cinnamon and cardamoms to a fine powder using either a spice grinder, or pestle and mortar. Keep a good pinch aside for garnish; the rest we’ll add whist cooking.
- Melt the ghee in a deep, wide frying pan, or a karahi, over a moderate heat.
- Add the grated carrots and cook until all excess water has cooked off. Stir regularly.
- Gradually add the milk, stirring as you do so.
- Cook the mixture until the carrots have absorbed the milk. This should take around 30 minutes. The carrots will look glazed and little bubbles of ghee will appear around the gajrela.
- Stir through the ground spice mix.
- Add the sugar and khoya and stir until the texture has softened and there is no excess liquid.
- Add the pistachios, almonds and melon seeds. Cook until they have softened.
- Once the mixture has come together, transfer into a non-stick baking tray. Level out with a spatula and garnish with the remaining chopped nuts and a pinch of ground spice mix.
- Allow to cool for at least 1 hour before slicing up into chunks. Serve hot with ice cream.
Freeze note: Freeze any leftovers (if any!) in greaseproof paper, wrapped in clingfilm. Thaw and reheat until warm in the microwave.