We asked three Ryerson employees to share how they celebrate Diwali, a holiday that is celebrated by many Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and some Buddhists. This festival is also called Theepavali by the Tamil-speaking community. It is often referred to as the festival of lights and expected to fall within late October or early November this year.
My childhood memories of Diwali are of it being a celebration over several days. On the new moon day, we get up very early in the morning, dress up in our best clothes and give back to our community by making special donations of food, money and clothing. I remember houses and streets being decorated, which was symbolic of welcoming everyone into our lives.
Now Diwali is like many of the other festivals that we have in Canada—a time to celebrate with friends, family and everyone in the community all the good things that life has given us.
“Ghoogra” and “chakri” are my favourite foods to eat during Diwali. Ghoogra is available sweet or savoury. The sweet is made with fillings of dry fruits and coconut. The savoury is made with fillings of lentils. Chakri is a fried savoury snack, shaped like concentric circles and made with lentil and wheat flour. Both are available during Diwali in many local shops and can also be made at home from recipes available on the web.
As I was born and raised in Toronto, my immigrant parents continued the Hindu customs and practices when they moved from India. Fortunately for my siblings and me, we grew up and embraced these cultural traditions.
Diwali is such a significant festival for my family. Every year it includes wearing a new outfit, indulging in mouth-watering sweets, enjoying fireworks and creating beautiful designs made from coloured sand/rice on the floor of our home. We light up unique clay candle holders that brighten up our house, a tradition I continue in my own home.
My fondest memories as a child are of my mom making various types of Indian sweet and savoury puris. She would pack them on pretty plates and gift them to our family. The best part was family coming over to bring us their baked goods. Every time we got a special delivery, I would rip the packages open to see if we got malpura (sweet pancake). With only a few ingredients, jaggery (sugar), flour, ghee, fennel seeds and Suji, this oily treat is still my favourite!
As part of my Sikh heritage, a story I heard growing up is of a spiritual leader who was unfairly imprisoned by the king because he felt threatened by this leader’s popularity among people. After many years of imprisonment, the leader won his freedom but he could not stop thinking of the 52 other princes who were still captive.
This leader negotiated with the king and they agreed that any prisoner who could grasp the leader’s robe as he walked out of the prison was free to go. The leader got a special robe made and 52 princes each grasped a panel; 26 on the right and 26 on the left. Walking behind the leader, careful not to let go, they stepped out into the sunlight to the cheers of onlookers. Through his ingenuity and skillful negotiation, the leader won freedom for all of them. This day coincides with Diwali; Sikhs celebrate it as a day of liberation, freedom and justice for everyone.
For my family, Diwali is a reaffirmation to be inclusive and to think, act and work for the greater good. Over the years, I have improvised Diwali celebrations. We continue to decorate our home with candles, share food with family and friends. However, we no longer give gifts to each other and instead we donate time and money. We also gave up fireworks which are a big part of Diwali celebrations because of environmental concerns.
The food most closely associated with the festival is Indian sweets, which come in a range of colours and flavours!