Two traders talk about their traditions for the Hindu festival of light
Diwali is one of the most important and widely celebrated festivals in the Hindu and Sikh calendar. Customs differ from province to province and household to household: here two Borough Market traders talk about their traditions.
Gaurav, owner of Horn OK Please about those of the western region of Gujarat, and Ratan of Tea2You about his experience of Diwali in West Bengal, eastern India.
Gaurav, Horn OK Please
Diwali is the festival of light—the winning of good over evil. There are a lot of different regions in India and each celebrates Diwali in a different way. Depending on what part of India you are in, Diwali is usually a one-day celebration—this year it falls on Wednesday 11th November.
In Gujarat and the western part of India, the day after Diwali is New Year, so they will have a five-day holiday. Everywhere else celebrates one day prior.
One of the main things every Hindu family will make is Laxmi pujan, which is a prayer to the goddess Laxmi. Most of the households will do that puja before they have a sit down meal and distribute sweets. Diwali really is an eating celebration—mainly sweet things, but again it differs from region to region.
We give traditional, homemade sweets to friends and family. They are mainly made with milk and gram flour. For example, we make lattos, which are a kind of pastry filled with something like semolina inside, and gujia, a sweet dumpling made of flour and stuffed with khoya which is made of milk.
In my family we make something called sev, which is coated with a type of sugar called jaggery. We also have barfi, which again is a milk-based cake.
Each family has their own way of celebrating and their own recipes, but every house will light candles, lamps and diya, which is a small clay lamp with a candle. We will also have fireworks. Most of all, though, Diwali is all about family and friends.
There are a lot of different gods and idols in India, but the most powerful and toughest god is Kali. She is ferocious! If you do not do puja, which means prayer, the proper way, she will punish you. At Diwali, Bengali Hindus pray to Kali rather than Laxmi.
We have a small Kali figure in each house, and she will always be with her husband Shiva. In Indian mythology, Kali was destroying everything and Shiva was the only one who could stop her. When she realised she was trampling her husband she stopped, so in every image he is lying at her feet. Kali is black in colour, with three eyes.
In Hinduism, when people die we do not bury them, we cremate them—and it is there, in the village graveyard, that Kali stays, so the devotees will visit on Diwali. The festival always falls on a night when there is no moon, so visiting the graveyard is quite horrible!
Leading a chant
At Diwali, we all pray together. The priest will start leading a chant at around 11 or 12 o’ clock at night which lasts for five hours. Once you start, you cannot leave until the priest rings the bell to say you can stop. During the evening, we set off firecrackers—we spend lots of money on firecrackers!—and light candles.
There are candles and diya everywhere and nowadays we also have fairy lights covering everything. It looks amazing. In West Bengal we also buy lots of gold on that day.
Traditionally in the Bengali community we would fast at Diwali, and some of the very good devotees will do so still, then after the puja will sit down to eat. But otherwise we have lots of food at Diwali–meat, vegetables, sweets, everything.
Everybody has two days off, and restaurants are always full. We will all sit down as a family, drinking, eating and celebrating all day. It’s like Guy Fawkes night and Christmas mixed into one.