Diyas brushed with gold at a potter’s house at Maloya Colony, Chandigarh
I love this time of the year. Everywhere you go it’s festive season. While my American friends celebrated Halloween on 31st, Sunday for us Indians was spent celebrating Diwali, the Indian festival of lights.
Diwali is one of the biggest festivals in India. It’s our Christmas. The day we exchange gifts, dress up in our finest, celebrate togetherness with family.
Diwali is celebrated for different reasons across India. In the north, Diwali marks the return of Lord Ram to Ayodhya, after defeating Ravana and rescuing his wife Sita. In the south, Deepavali/Diwali is celebrated to mark the death of Narakasura, a person who had performed many atrocities on his people. For Sikhs, Diwali is the day when our sixth Guru was released from imprisonment. The foundation stone of the Golden Temple, one of the most holy shrines of Sikhism was also laid on Diwali.
While different people celebrate Diwali for different reasons, the common message is the victory of good over evil. Diwali also symbolises hope, of letting go of what was and making place for the new/for change.
Fresh Jalebis being made during Diwali
There is also a scientific explanation behind the festivities that make Diwali. Diwali is celebrated in the months of October/november, the date changes since it follows the lunar calendar, a little after the rainy season ends. The rainy season brings with it various insects, micro-organisma and by cleaning our homes and lighting diyas, we prepare for a healthy new winter season.
Diwali has always been one of my most favorite festivals. For most Indians, Diwali preparation starts days in advance with visits to boutiques and stores to stitch or buy new clothes, shopping for new crockery, electronics and ordering boxes of sweets to be gifted. Diwali is the business community’s New Year and its the time when you will find the best sales and deals in the market. Big Bollywood movies also schedule their releases around Diwali time.
A popular sweet shop in Mohali, Punjab a day before Diwali
For the mithai walas (sweet shops), Diwali is huge. Shops are flooded with customers buying boxes and boxes of different sweets. Over the years, traditional mithais have been replaced by diet namkeens and low fat twists on traditional sweets like date gujiyas, oat ladoos, dry fruit and muesli barfi catering to diet conscious Indians. Green Diwali (which is a welcome change) has led to a slightly more responsible Diwali. While certain things have changed the essence of the festival remains the same.
If you want to see India on the streets, there is no better time than the days preceding Diwali to be here; be prepared to be overwhelmed though. The traffic can be crazy and crowds in the popular markets are so bad that keeping a track of your loved ones can be a task, but seeing how everyone flocks the markets and the excitement everywhere makes Diwali time the place to be in India.
Crowds at Mohali a day before Diwali
For me, Diwali is all about decorating the house with lights and being with family. While the chinese lights make life easier, Diyas and candles for me are what bring the charm to this festival.
While our preparation for Diwali starts weeks before, for businessmen, shopkeepers and the potters who make Diyas, preparing for Diwali starts much in advance. The Kumhars (the potter community in India) in the Maloya colony of Chandigarh start as early as 2-3 months, with each potter making around 2 lacs (200,000) diyas that are then sold to retailers. Some even start 6 months before Diwali preparing Diyas to be sent out countrywide.
The Kumhar colony of Maloya, makes their own clay by using the mud from the fields that they treat and make clay. The clay is then shaped into diyas on electricity operated wheels, and then laid in the sun to dry. The firing process is also rudimentary with no kiln but instead a pit in the ground is made. A layer of dried cow dung discs is put in it that acts as fuel. The sun dried diyas are laid between hay and covered with ash so that the heat is trapped. The diyas are left to fire sometimes for 2 days and once the pit is cool to touch, the finished diyas are then collected and painted or left as is depending on requirement and order.
Here are a few photos from my trip to the Kumhars of Maloya colony, Chandigarh who have been making and supplying diyas for generations. If you are in the area do visit them for an insight into the wonderful work they are doing on a daily basis.