VEITHA Sangari Ponnasammy is certainly in a cheery Deepavali mood. When we met recently at her home in Shah Alam, Selangor, she was intricately outlining geometrical line drawings of a kolam, and arranging diyas (clay oil lamps) surrounding a kuthu vilaku (brass oil lamp).
“It’s part of our family tradition to decorate the kolam using rice grains and rice flour in our porch during Deepavali. It is believed rice flour – eaten by birds and insects – symbolises reverence for all life. It is also a sign of invitation to welcome guests into our home, most of all Goddess Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth and prosperity,” says Veitha, 33, a business development manager, as she uniformly drops rice grains through her thumb and index finger to form a rangoli (an Indian traditional art form) motif around the kolam.
Veitha’s attractive kolam, designed using coloured rice grains including pink, purple, yellow and green, is one of the many traditional elements practiced by Hindu families each Deepavali.
Also known as the festival as lights, Deepavali is observed by Hindus, Jains and Sikhs and is incorporated into many different cultures globally. During this celebration, which originates from India, Hindus light many diyas around their homes to represent the victory of good over evil.
For Veitha, keeping traditions alive is very much a part of her Deepavali experience. Another custom that has stood the test of time is the tradition of making cookies and snacks. Each year, her relatives, comprising 20 extended family members across four generations, gather at her house to prepare between 12 and 15 types of delicacies.
They include Veitha’s grandmother, mother, aunts, cousins and nieces.
Grandmother R.D. Pakiam, 83, says the recipes are passed down (the generations) with great pride, and (kitchen) secrets are shared between mother and daughter(s).
“I learnt the art of making snacks such as muruku, omapodi and ladoo from my mother. Over the years, I taught my daughters and granddaughters how to prepare these treats. Taste wise, the flavour is just like how my mother used to make it,” says Pakiam, while shaping a perfectly round nei urundai (ghee ball), made from green pea flour, fine sugar, ghee, cashew nuts and raisins.
It’s always the same frenzy each year, admits Pakiam, but it always makes celebrating Deepavali so much fun.
“Romba santhosam (very happy) because my family, especially my daughters, granddaughters and great granddaughters, are gathered to prepare many snacks from scratch,” adds the great-grandmother-of-four.
The atmosphere at the cook-out session – held on the weekend before Deepavali – is redolent with celebration.
The aroma of muruku spices is irrestible, and the merrymaking as each family member lends a helping hand to prepare the traditional goodies is infectious.
Veitha’s mother Sumathy Dek Shana Moorthy, 62, takes the lead to make all items, especially mixing the ingredients that go into each delicacy. The grandmother-of-one’s crunchy muruku is one of the most sought-after treats among family members.
The other relatives are tasked with mixing the dough, shaping it into spirals or coils and putting the muruku into a frying pan of boiling oil. They start at 10am and by evening, each family member has a large tin of muruku to bring home. Throughout the day, other delicacies such as achi muruku, chippi and omapodi are prepared, too. A couple of days before Deepavali, the relatives join forces again to prepare sweet treats including palkova, ladoo, rawa urundai, chittu urundai, and ellu urundai. The works, really.
Veitha, the second of three siblings, says the annual cook-out sessions have further strengthened the family’s bond, especially in terms of caring and looking out for each other.
“Despite our hectic work schedule, these annual get-togethers allow us to catch up,” says Veitha, adding her extended family members also chip in to pay for ingredients used for the delicacies.
These traditions and values of Indian culture have shaped Veitha’s childhood. She hopes it will enable her younger cousins to further understand the core traditions of the festival, especially importance of thanksgiving, reunion and purification.
“The festival cannot be celebrated if there isn’t a sense of togetherness among family members. We also want the younger generation to learn the art of making traditional cookies and (the) ceremonial activities,” says the mother of five-year-old Vaishnavi Ira.
On Deepavali morning, G. Athiletchumi, 41, rises at 6am and starts the auspicious day by giving an oil bath to her two daughters P. Kathiyainie, 15, and P. Kangastri, seven. Three drops of oil are placed on the girls’ forehead, then slowly rubbed on the face, body and limbs.
“The oil bath symbolises the cleansing of one’s body and soul. Hair is washed with shikakai powder, a herbal rub, followed by a prayers in our house. “It’s also part of our tradition to wear new clothes for Deepavali, which is believed to symbolise good luck and prosperity,” says Aathiletchumi, a senior bank executive in Kuala Lumpur.
After putting on new clothes and praying, the children will seek blessings from her and husband P. Puspanathan, 45. Following that, the family will proceed to the Sri Muneeswaran Amman temple near their home in Cheras, Kuala Lumpur, where they will present a thenggai archanai (coconut offering).
“In Hinduism, the coconut is a symbol of good luck and prosperity. The coconut is cracked and placed before Goddess Muneeswaran Amman to welcome prosperity as we celebrate Deepavali,” explains Athiletchumi, who has two siblings.
Since last week, Athiletchumi has been busy cleaning the house, where it is believed a spruced up home will have blessings from Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and fortune.
“It’s customary for families to clean the house and if possible, add a fresh coat of paint. This year, I’ve stitched new curtains and cushion covers,” she says. Athiletchumi has also been helping her mother Tamilmani Ganapathy, 65, prepare traditional cookies such as adhirasam, achi muruku, chipi and muruku.
Tamilmani takes great pride to prepare these mouth-watering delicacies from scratch.
“Raw ingredients such as rice, urad dhal are cleaned, rinsed and dried for a week before being sent to the mill to be ground into flour. Muruku is made from rice and urad dhal flour, butter, coconut milk, fennel and caraway seeds. What makes it special is it is made with extra love,” explains Tamilmani, a grandmother-of-eight, with a warm smile.
While Deepavali preparations take a lot of effort and time, Athiletchumi isn’t complaining. It brings her joy to celebrate the occasion with the family. Even her daughter is tasked with household chores, including polishing the kuthu vilaku, wiping the altar and throwing out unwanted items.
“What’s really important is the family closeness. No matter how modern or Western we might be these days, this is part of our tradition. It’s important to teach our children these beliefs so that the flame of Deepavali will continue to illuminate brightly.” – The Star