Diwali in North India
In the North, Diwali festivities start at Dussehra. There are numerous
legends and local customs associated with this festival, but common to all
is the lighting of homes, pathways, temples, and even government buildings,
with hundreds of small clay lamps and candles. Firecrackers, thought to
frighten away evil spirits are also used with abandon, which makes this a
particular popular festival for children.
On Diwali day, shops remain open till the afternoon, believing that good
sales on Diwali day predict a prosperous year ahead. In the corporate
sector, the process of buying and distributing Diwali gifts begins several
days before the big day, and slowly picks up pace. Sweets and dry fruits are
the most common gifts, as are silver coins. But gifts also range from silver
dishes and other household gifts to suit-pieces.
In north India, around every street corner can be found the temporary
stages for holding the Ramlila - a dramatic rendition of the story of the
Ramayan, which continues for several evenings, culminating in the defeat of
Evil (Ravana) by Good (Ram). In Himachal, as in parts of Punjab, Haryana and
Delhi, gambling with cards picks up and reaches peak on the night of Diwali.
Although traditionally Diwali is not celebrated by the Sikhs, they do
participate in the festival to the extent of making a trip to the Gurudwara,
and then lighting candles in the evening and letting off fire crackers as
Houses are decorated and a Lakshmi puja is organized. Often the women of
the house do "aarti" to their husbands, garlanding him and putting
a "tika" on him, while praying for his long life. In some houses,
there is a ritual of immersing a silver coin in a tumbler of milk. The milk
is then sprinkled lightly in the rooms of the house. Prashad is kept in
front of the idol throughout the night.
In Himachal, every indoor corner of the house is lit up carefully, and a
large diya, bigger than usual, is kept in the temple or puja place and is
guarded all night through. In Bihar and UP, it is not always one large diya,
but four smaller ones, intricately shaped, which surround the puja place and
the women of the house sit guard all night to ensure they do not go out.
Even the diyas placed outside, around the house are jealously guarded and
re-lit at once, if the wind puts them out.
Some of the Diwali specialties made are: "patandas" - dosa like
but made of flour and eaten with shakkar (jaggery powder) and ghee; "askloo"
- pakodas made out of rice atta and eaten with either shakkar ghee or
chutney; "poodas" or "mal poohas"-- which are made of
flour and sugar syrup and eaten with a chutney.