I had first read the post on Magh mela on Arti’s blog, when I was looking to become a virtual pilgrim. I was immediately hooked to the way she took the reader on the trip along with her. But it was with her posts on the various avatars of the Ganga that I became her devoted follower — we both share the reverence and awe of the divine river. Her innate spirituality comes through in her posts, making them even more engrossing. This is not to say that she only writes on pilgrim destinations. Her posts on her trips to Japan and other places are equally enthralling.
Her posts are comprehensive with every detail that a traveler would want to have – places to stay, where to eat, what to see, how to get there…When I met her last year, I was pleasantly surprised to find a young girl and not a middle-aged woman I had always thought her be! Arti blogs at My Yatra Diary.
In this guest post — one of her rare personal ones — my young friend takes a walk down memory lane to the Diwali of her childhood, illuminated by the glow of the diya. Read on…..
The Arti of the big Diwali night has just concluded and the night air outside is rent with noises. But inside the silent confines of my home, there is a divine calm as the big diya exudes its light. I am staring at the flickering flame; this diya has to glow all night. ‘Divine’ I say, because in its radiance I can hear voices that have a deep resonance and unlock many a door of memories in the corridors of my heart…
Ah, the voices!
Dadaji, look I have finished washing the diyas!
Very good, now take them carefully and hand them over to your dadi in the rasoi.
……I had been seven, maybe eight then. The entire family would come together during Diwali, for the festivities at my grandparents’ house. Everyone had his or her job cut out, whether it was dadiji writing out a list of ingredients for the rasoi, aunts bringing out huge cauldrons from their kitchen shelves and uncles running around to get their crisp cotton kurtas readied for the day. Amidst all this hullabaloo, I was assigned a job too — of washing the earthen diyas! It made me feel very important.
Arti, will you wash the diyas for me?
Yes Dadaji, sure I will!
A day before Badi Diwali, I would excitedly run down to my grandpa’s house, a storey below ours, to find a small bucket of water, a steel plate full of diyas and an empty plate to hold them after washing — waiting for me. One by one, I would pick them up, soak them in the water and gently stroke them clean. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this was not a job — it was pure fun! I watched in fascination as the water changed color as did my fingers. The entire activity induced an odd sense of contentment. I felt good to be trusted with a job that felt very important to me, to be part of the preparations that the elders were busy with. Perhaps that’s what inspired the festive spirit in me then. At the end of it all, the bucket would be half empty with water splashed all around and there would be wet patches on my frock, but my gaze would be fixed on the plate loaded with the clean, damp diyas carefully arranged by me in neat stacks of three. Not a droplet of water in it — the plate would be a clear mirror. In it, I could almost taste the earthy smell of the diyas and my hard work — cool, crisp and light.
Dadaji, I have given all the diyas a nice bath.
They are now ready for tomorrow’s puja.
Arre waah, bahut hoshiyar hai meri poti toh.
(Wonderful! How clever my granddaughter is!)
His loving words, his effervescent smile and his compliments meant the world to me. Such was the glow of accomplishment; such was the magnitude of the pride I felt in my job, that I couldn’t wait for the next day to dawn.
The following day would start off with me wearing a new dress — simple yet special because I knew this was the only one that I would be getting till the next year – on Diwali. The air would be fragrant with vapors from the huge kadais where the boondis made of gram flour were being fried in ghee for the laddoos; and from the big cauldron of the special Diwali kheer with kesar and a host of dry fruits and nuts sprinkled generously
on top. The quantities were not enormous but I remember my grandma always putting away a part of these tempting pakwaans in separate containers even before the puja commenced.
Why are you taking out the kheer from the kadai, dadiji?
It is for the watchman uncle, kusum maushi, her kids, the subziwali aunty and so many others who serve us all year. Today is our turn to serve them, dear.
Meanwhile, the living room would be abuzz with the preparations for the Laxmi pujan going on in full swing with none other than dadaji directing the proceedings: The preparation of the altar with a picture of Laxmiji with Ganeshji and Saraswatiji pasted on the wall, a copy of Bhagwad Gita placed on a Lal pata, a few silver coins placed in a row; and other preparations like making cotton wicks, stringing flower garlands; and finally, placing the big diya in the centre, with the smaller ones arranged at a lower level as if they were sentinels guarding it. Then each would get a wick and oil, ready to be lit. All the offerings — fruits, kheele, patashe and the pakwaan would be arranged around the altar.
Seeing Dadaji take care of all preparations to their minutest detail and observing his unwavering devotion, I realized even at that tender age that Diwali was indeed the biggest of all Hindu festivals.
Before the puja began, the smaller diyas would be lit one by one, followed by the big one. That signaled the commencement of the Arti . The clapping of hands, the tinkling of bells, and the voices joined together that soon rose to a crescendo in the culmination of the divine song.
O Goddess Laxmi, come to our house and enlighten our souls,
Your children welcome You in their humble dwellings…
…Bolo Laxmi Mata ki Jai!
As the song slowly faded out, the noise of the crackers outside would assault the ears but I would find myself drawn to the beautiful radiance of the big diya…..
Years have gone by, times have changed…..so much so that the warmth and bonhomie of the ancestral home and the extended family slowly became distant, the tins of hand-made laddoos came to be replaced with big boxes of store-bought mithais and the new dress no longer remained exclusive or special….
Why is one diya big and the others small, dadaji?
Beta, the big earthen diya is to guide the Goddess’ path into our world, and the smaller ones are meant to guide our path into Hers…
I shake myself from the reverie I had sunk into. I look at the glow of the large diya and see that it is still as captivating as it had been when I was a little girl. The soft echo of the voices continues to ring in my ears over the noise of the crackers outside — its nostalgic glow reaffirming the real spirit of the festival, which dadaji had instilled in me.
WISH YOU ALL A VERY HAPPY DIWALI!
Glossary of terms:
Arti — Prayers offered with a lamp
Diya — lamp
Dadaji – Grandfather
Dadiji — Grandmother
Poti – Granddaughter
Rasoi – Kitchen
Kheele – puffed rice with the husk
Patashe – sweet made of melted and solidified sugar
Kadai – wok
Kesar – Saffron
Pakwaans – Delicacies
Subziwali – Vegetable vendor woman
Lal pata – Red wooden board used to sit on
Mithai – Sweets