Diwali (written as Deepavali in Tamil), also known as the “festival of lights”, is a magical holiday. For Hindus, it is the most important occasion of the year. Occurring in October or November (depending on the Hindu lunar calendar), the word Diwali is a derivative of the Sanskrit deepavali, meaning row of lamps. In North India, Diwali is said to commemorate the return of Rama and Sita to their kingdom of Ayodhya after a long exile and the defeat of the demon-king Ravana in Sri Lanka, whereas in South and West India it marks the victory of Lord Krishna over the demon Narakasura. Regardless of region, Diwali symbolizes the triumph of good over evil and is thus considered to be the start of the Hindu new year.
As the residents of Ayodhya supposedly did back in the day, Hindus (as well as Sikhs and Jains) all over India as well as the Indian diaspora light small clay lamps filled with oil (known as diyas in Hindi and deepams in Tamil) and burst firecrackers all night long. Diwali celebrations also include the wearing of festive new clothes, sharing of sweets with friends and family and card game marathons.
Among the Tamils, the most special Deepavali celebration is without a doubt the Thalai Deepavalai, meaning the first Deepavali celebrated as a married couple. Traditionally speaking, newlyweds are showered with gifts of clothes and jewels as well as blessings from their elders on their Thalai Deepavalai. This year marked our Thalai Deepavali, and although we would have loved to celebrate it with my family as is the tradition, we did the next best thing by hosting a big Diwali dinner party at our apartment in Paris on Friday evening, November 5th (Diwali is usually celebrated over a five-day period, the most auspicious of which which is the date of the Lakshmi Puja). It was no small feat to squeeze 30-something friends into our not-so-big apartment and to cook for all of those people, but we managed and succeeded!
Originally, we had an overly ambitious menu planned, with at least 8-9 main dish items. However two nights before when I decided to make a couple of the dishes in advance and freeze them, I ended up cutting my right thumb deeply while opening an aluminum can, effectively knocking out the use of my right thumb. Try cooking that much food without the use of your right thumb as a right-hander, it is no small feat! This combined with the fact that I wasn’t able to take the whole day off of work as hoped made things quite complicated, as I only got home around 2pm, with guests expected for 9pm.
Luckily Luis was at home all day and got a head start on the chicken curry, shrimp vindaloo and mini pudins de coco (coconut puddings) that he prepared. Our wonderful friends Lauren and Madonna also came over early to help with the cooking and setup, and they were such a godsend! All together, we fried cauliflower, made chutneys, assembled samosas, lit candles all over the apartment, set the table and not to mention got dressed (my family had gifted me a beautiful new black, white and teal saree and Luis a new shirt and pair of jeans). Talk about teamwork! While we certainly didn’t have everything ready at 9pm when people started showing up, somehow everything eventually got there, not in small part because of the help from our friends (including help in serving from Ayeh and photographic assistance by Madonna, Marielle and Gérard).
Our menu consisted of the following:
Chili paneer samosas and vegetable samosas with tamarind and mint/coriander chutneys
Moroccan carrot soup shots
Dal makhani (from Show Me The Curry)
Chole (which we actually forgot to serve and had the next day instead, oops!)
Pomegranate, mint and tomato raita
Gajar ka halwa (carrot halwa) (from Show Me The Curry)
Mini pudins de coco (coconut puddings) – a Portuguese specialty!
Accompanied by wonderful wines and beer (Belgian and Portuguese) brought by our friends as well as Luis’s dangerously delightful shots, our Diwali dinner was pretty darn good if I do say so myself. With friends from all over the world (many of them decked out in Indian gear!), bhangra and Bollywood hits on the radio and a bevy of candles and flowers everywhere, we were very proud of our Thalai Deepavali.
Even if we were exhausted for the rest of the weekend (emerging from our apartment only for a visit to the Ganesh Temple and a dinner at Saravana Bhavan), all of the effort was well worth it. Even though we won’t have another Thalai Deepavali, I think that a new tradition of hosting a big Diwali party every year has started, one that will continue for years to come wherever we happen to be!