Festivities have already begun in India and every month from now, we get to see colours, celebration, and belongingness. India being a land of diverse cultures, languages, and traditions, it celebrates a wide range of traditional festivals throughout the year. These festivals often have religious, cultural, or historical significance. The festivals are sometimes a single day event, or it may go on for a few days. Not only that, some of these are region specific and the way it is celebrated in each region also differs. A good harvest is a sign of prosperity, and some states dedicate days to celebrate this as a token of gratitude to Mother Earth. Pongal in Tamil Nadu, Lohri in Punjab, Onam in Kerala, Bihu in Assam, Nuakhai in Odisha are all harvest festivals and commemorated in festive spirit. Diwali being the festival of lights and Holi being the festival of colours are celebrated across the country, and in some states with abundance. Dussehra and Bakrid celebrated by Hindus and Muslims respectively are linked to mythological beliefs. For generations, these festivals have been celebrated with much galore and the customs are dutifully practiced and passed on to younger generations. While the significance, customs and traditions differ for each, at the end of the day, they contribute to immense happiness and memories.
These festivals evoke some fond memories and take us back to a beautiful nostalgia of events. The inevitable aspects of each festival involve rituals that are jointly done by the families at the place of worship, playing games together, gifting and most importantly, preparing festival special delicious sweets and traditional snacks at home. The last bit holds a special place in the hearts of many as it greatly contributes to childhood nostalgia and there's always a sentimental value attached to it whenever we savour such snacks. Some foods are associated with specific festivals, and these may also be offered to God as ‘prasad’ in Hindu traditions.
One of the famous sweets made during festivals, is the Modak sweet offered to Lord Ganesha during Ganesh Chaturthi. They are steamed dumplings with coconut-jaggery mix stuffed inside. This is famously made especially in Maharashtra where Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated with much glory. Similarly, during the Pongal festival in Tamil Nadu, it is a custom to make ‘venpongal’ (a savoury dish made with rice) or Chakkara pongal, the sweeter version of it. It is a popular dish served to guests and visitors during Pongal day. Rakshabandhan, that symbolises the unique bond and love between sister and brother involves the sister to tie a ‘rakhi’ on the brother’s wrist, and the brother offers gifts to the sister along with a sweet fed by him. This is mostly barfi, or other traditional Mithais. During Bakr-eid, which is a holy festival observed by Muslims all over the world, prepares a vibrant spread of ‘sacrifice feast’ and Haleem tops the list of most favourite dishes. The beauty of all these delicacies and others prepared in different parts of the state is that it’s always made extra to share with friends and loved ones, boasting the culture of sharing and love among Indians.
The recipe of the dishes is passed on to the younger generations which is also why whenever we have them it takes us back to the memories of us as children waiting near the kitchen to have them fresh, and our grandparents assuring us that we will be given a generous amount of it. The same set of ingredients in the exact portion size is followed as a practice because nobody likes to mess with the iconic dishes made by our ancestors. The familiarity is what brings a sense of comfort and belongingness during these festivals. Over the years, families moving to nuclear size and the inconvenience for everyone travelling to one place for celebrations had made many to resort to buying these dishes from shops. The trade-off here is the authentic taste of the dishes which we get when it’s made at home. Also, homemade snacks ensure the ingredients are used in moderation at hygienic settings. During the festive days, home-based businesses may offer these homemade snacks which can be pre-ordered especially for the people who cannot access it otherwise.
The importance of the traditional snacks is very significant in the concept of festivals of India, that if not preserved and passed on to the future generations, the true essence will go extinct in some years. It is also to be kept in mind that it's not just about the taste, but food is a unifying force that brings together families and communities closer. Festivals such as Dussehra, Diwali, Ganesh Chaturthi are around the corner, and this year, try going back to your roots, preparing the festival special dishes with recipes from your grandparents’ kitchen. Inculcate the essence of unity and love among everyone!
Happy festivities to all!