Diwali special: How different regions of India give the festival of lights a sweet and savoury twist

While Diwali is touted to be the festival of lights, the piece de résistance are the delicacies, both sweet and savoury, without which the celebrations are incomplete.

Diwali festivities in India, go on for four to five days, starting before and continuing after the actual date of Diwali, which falls on the new moon of the Hindu month of Kartik.

Regardless of the varying styles and forms of celebrations observed by different regions, there is an underlying similarity in the celebration of this festival. Diwali festivities everywhere, celebrate the victory of good over evil.

A wide assortment of sweets and savoury snacks are prepared at home or bought from sweet shops and shared with everyone. Every region of India boasts of its own specialties for Diwali.

Diwali sweets 825

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An array of regional sweets

If there's one thing that captures the Indian culinary psyche, it is the mithai or sweetmeats. Made with copious amounts of ghee, these are usually prepared at home, but sometimes even purchased. Organic, gluten-free, sugarless varieties of sweets for Diwali may be options today, yet, people prefer the traditional versions. Made from simple ingredients, like milk, lentils, dry fruits, nuts and spices, Indian sweets take various forms and colors, decorated with shards of edible silver or gold, called vark.

From the South

The oil bath or Abhyanga Snan may usher in the festival of Diwali for South Indians, but the celebrations begin once the sweets are laid on the table in every home. And there is a vast array of items to choose from. Bengal gram flour or besan, coconut, jaggery, rice flour, semolina, various lentils and grains, are typical ingredients that are made use of.

“No Diwali in South India is complete without the Deepavali legyam or a medicinal brew made of various herbs. This sweet and spicy concoction is a must-have as it helps to digest the Diwali sweets and is also considered to be sweet as Lord Brahma is believed to be present in the form of this dish,” says Kamala Subramanian, a Navi Mumbai-based home chef.

She further adds, “In Tamil Nadu, badusha is a flaky sweet made of maida, ghee and sugar syrup. The distinctive texture of this sweet apart from its taste, makes it unique. Adhirasam, a doughnut-like pastry, too is a popular dish made for auspicious occasions including Diwali. It is typically an offering for the Gods during a puja and is made from rice flour and jaggery.”

Pineapple halwa, jiangiri, rawa kesari made with semolina, sugar and ghee, are other Diwali sweets. Okkarai is a famous Diwali sweet usually made for newly-wed couples on their first Diwali. It is made using chana dal or Bengal gram dal, jaggery and grated coconut.

Aruna Panangipally a home chef adept in cooking South Indian delicacies states, “Asoka halwa is South-Indian style moong dal halwa from the Tanjavur (Tanjore) district of Tamil Nadu. Locally, it is also known as Thiruvaiyaru halwa. Equally popular is the Kasi halwa or Gummidikaya halwa during Deepavali.”

According to her, there are ladoos aplenty made in South India for Diwali. “Plain besan ladoos are a must, but are not the only ones. Minapa sunni undalu or urad dal ladoos, Chimmili or til and gur ladoos, too are common.”

Puran poli of Maharashtra or Gujarat takes the name of bobattu or holige in the South. Made with whole wheat, chana dal, jaggery, grated coconut, cardamom and ghee, these are stuffed liberally with the filling and simply melt in the mouth.

Millets play a vital role in the diet of South Indians and Diwali is no exception. Millet-based sweets sweetened with palm and sugarcane jaggery are common. Minor millets such as samai, varagarisi, thinai, kuthirai vali and kambu are used to make an array of sweets like thinai halwa and varagarisi jalebi.

Karnataka celebrates Diwali with traditional sweets like chirotti, obbattu and Mysore pak.

Naraka Chaturdashi, which is also popularly known as Kali Choudas, has a huge significance in Kerala. It comes on the second day of Diwali. It is believed that on this day the demon Naraka was killed by Krishna and Kali. The popular dish on this day is a prasad of sesame seeds, jaggery, rice flakes (poha), ghee and sugar. Telangana's boorelu is the most famous sweet dish of the state. The ingredients of the dish are urad and channa dal, jaggery, cardamom powder and rice.

From the North

In North India, Diwali is incomplete without deep fried orange imartis, kaju barfi, kalakand, or the crispy and flaky ghee-laden balushahis. Most of the sweets here are made from milk, khoya or mawa, nuts, raisins, saffron, cardamom, nutmeg, rose water and dried fruits are added for flavour.

Deep fried gujiyas made of refined flour and filled with mawa, coconut, nuts and raisins are a must in Uttar Pradesh. The same gujiyas, with a slight variation are known as karanjis in Western India. Petha and thuggu ke ladoo are other popular Diwali sweets in Uttar Pradesh.

Patande, which resembles a dosa, made of flour and usually eaten with sugar or jaggery and ghee, is everyone’s favourite for Diwali in Himachal Pradesh.  Askloo, made out of rice atta and eaten with sugar, is yet another deep fried, home-made sweet on this festival.  Babru, made of black gram dal with a pinch of baking soda that is kneaded into dough with sugar and then deep fried, is another delicacy. The crisp texture of this sweet makes it stand apart.

From the West

Known to be a state of food lovers, Gujarat offers golpapadi made with wheat flour, basundi made with sweetened dense milk flavoured with nuts, saffron and the milk and rice doodh paak on Diwali. Mawa, corn flour, flour, butter, kewra, milk, almonds, pistachios, ghee, saffron, green cardamom come together to make ghewar, a  porous sweet, eaten on Diwali in Rajasthan.

Puran poli, shankarpali and besan and rava ladoos are the other sweet specialties of the western region.  The Pathare Prabhus of Maharashtra make karanjis  filled with dudhi or gourd.

Rrom the East

Milk-based sweets like kheer kadam, in Bengal are unequivocally popular for Diwali but equally delectable is the besan-based mihidana, sprinkled with cardamom, nuts and saffron. Patishapta, a thin crust made of rice flour, maida and sooji and stuffed with a coconut and jaggery filling is a festival delicacy. Khaja or dough layered and soaked in sugar syrup is a must-have in Bihar, as is the sesame seeds laden anarsa in Jharkhand.

Savoury snacks or 'farsan'

To balance the effect of sweets which one consumes in abundance on Diwali, fried tidbits, collectively known as ‘namkeen’ or ‘farsan’ in different parts of India are equally a veritable feast for the eyes and palate on Diwali.

Mullu murukku, omapodi and ribbon pakoda made with rice flour and besan, are a must-have in every South Indian household. Thenkuzal is made with raw rice, urad dal and a mixture which comprises besan, poha or flattened rice, peanuts, cashew nuts, chana dal and maida, is an integral part of the festivities too. Kambu sev, kambu seeval and pakoda, Kelvaragu murukku are fried savouries made from millets.

The legendary farsan in Gujarat consists of sev, fafda, kachori, cholafali, ganthia, whereas chaklis are commonplace in Maharashtra as part of the Diwali faral or platter. These savoury snacks are usually prepared in advance and stored in air-tight containers. A must in every Maharashtrian home also on Diwali is the chiwda. This faral, made of poha, garlic, curry leaves and dry fruits, is available in countless variations. It imparts the final touch to the festivities. One can choose from spicy saoji poha chiwda, mix poha chiwda, pakka chiwda and khattha meetha chiwda.

Diwali may begin on a sweet note with syrupy and ghee-laden mithai but as the day progresses, spicy and fried farsan too is savoured, thus ensuring every taste bud is sufficiently appeased on this festival.

So, what will you be indulging in this Diwali?

Mini Ribeiro is a food writer and critic. Follow her blog here.

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Updated Date: Oct 30, 2016 12:10:35 IST

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