Nov 142020
 

Today is the main day of Diwali, the Indian festival of lights, usually lasting five days and celebrated during the Hindu Lunisolar month Kartika (between mid-October and mid-November). Diwali symbolizes the spiritual victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance. The festival is widely associated with Lakshmi, goddess of prosperity, with many other regional traditions connecting the holiday to Sita and Rama, Vishnu, Krishna, Yama, Yami, Durga, Kali, Hanuman, Ganesha, Kubera, Dhanvantari, or Vishvakarman. Furthermore, it is, in some regions, a celebration of the day Lord Rama returned to his kingdom Ayodhya with his wife Sita and his brother Lakshmana after defeating Ravana in Lanka and serving 14 years of exile.

In the lead-up to Diwali, celebrants prepare by cleaning, renovating, and decorating their homes and workplaces with diyas (oil lamps) and rangolis. During Diwali, people wear their finest clothes, illuminate the interior and exterior of their homes with diyas and rangoli, perform worship ceremonies for Lakshmi, light fireworks, and partake in family feasts, where mithai (sweets) and gifts are shared. Diwali is also a major cultural event for the Hindu and Jain diaspora from the Indian subcontinent.

The five-day long festival originated in the Indian subcontinent and is mentioned in early Sanskrit texts. Diwali is usually celebrated twenty days after the Dashera (Dasara, Dasain) festival, with Dhanteras, or the regional equivalent, marking the first day of the festival when celebrants prepare by cleaning their homes and making decorations on the floor, such as rangolis. The second day is Naraka Chaturdashi. The third day is the day of Lakshmi Puja and the darkest night of the traditional month. In some parts of India, the day after Lakshmi Puja is marked with the Govardhan Puja and Balipratipada (Padwa). Some Hindu communities mark the last day as Bhai Dooj or the regional equivalent, which is dedicated to the bond between sister and brother, while other Hindu and Sikh craftsmen communities mark this day as Vishwakarma Puja and observe it by performing maintenance in their work spaces and offering prayers.

Some other faiths in India also celebrate their respective festivals alongside Diwali. The Jains observe their own Diwali which marks the final liberation of Mahavira, the Sikhs celebrate Bandi Chhor Divas to mark the release of Guru Hargobind from a Mughal Empire prison, while Newar Buddhists, unlike other Buddhists, celebrate Diwali by worshiping Lakshmi.

Regional traditions for Diwali are extremely diverse. One tradition links the festival to legends in the Hindu epic Ramayana, where Diwali is the day Rama, Sita, Lakshman and Hanuman reached Ayodhya after a period of 14 years in exile after Rama’s army of good defeated demon king Ravana’s army of evil. As per another popular tradition, in the Dwapara Yuga Period, Krishna, an avatar of Vishnu, killed the demon Narakasura, who was evil king of Pragjyotishapura, near present-day Assam and released 16000 girls held captive by Narakasura. Diwali was celebrated as a significance of triumph of good over evil after Krishna’s Victory over Narakasura. The day before Diwali is remembered as Naraka Chaturdasi, the day on which Narakasura was killed by Krishna.

Many Hindus associate the festival with Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity, and wife of Vishnu. In some popular contemporary sources the start of Diwali is the day Lakshmi was born from Samudra manthan, the churning of the cosmic ocean of milk by the Devas (gods) and the Asuras (demons), a Vedic legend that is also found in several Puranas such as the Padma Purana, while the night of Diwali is when Lakshmi chose and wed Vishnu. Along with Lakshmi, who is representative of Vaishnavism, Ganesha, the elephant-headed son of Parvati and Shiva of Shaivism tradition, is remembered as one who symbolizes ethical beginnings and the remover of obstacles.

Hindus of eastern India associate the festival with the goddess Kali, who symbolizes the victory of good over evil. Hindus from the Braj region in northern India, parts of Assam, as well as southern Tamil and Telugu communities view Diwali as the day the god Krishna overcame and destroyed the evil demon king Narakasura, in yet another symbolic victory of knowledge and good over ignorance and evil.

Trade and merchant families and others also offer prayers to Saraswati, who embodies music, literature and learning and Kubera, who symbolizes book-keeping, treasury and wealth management. In western states such as Gujarat, and certain northern Hindu communities of India, the festival of Diwali signifies the start of a new year.

Tales shared on Diwali vary widely depending on region and even within Hindu tradition, yet all share a common focus on righteousness, self-inquiry and the importance of knowledge, which is the path to overcoming the “darkness of ignorance”. The telling of these tales is a reminder of the Hindu belief that good ultimately triumphs over evil.

Sweet treats are common snacks and offerings in households on Diwali.  These four are typical, although the 40 minute claim is a bit of an exaggeration:

Nov 122016
 

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Today is the principal date this year (2016) for the Hindu traditional ceremony of Tulsi Vivah. Tulsi Vivah is the ceremonial marriage of the Tulsi plant (holy basil) to the Hindu god Vishnu or his avatar (incarnate form) Krishna. This ceremony can be performed any time between Prabodhini Ekadashi –  the eleventh lunar day of the bright fortnight of the Hindu month Kartik – and the full moon of the month (Kartik Poornima), but usually it is performed on the eleventh or the twelfth lunar day. The day varies from region to region. The Tulsi wedding signals the end of the monsoon and the beginning of the Hindu wedding season.

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Tulsi is venerated as a goddess in Hinduism and sometimes considered a wife of Vishnu, sometimes with the epithet Vishnupriya, “the beloved of Vishnu”. The legend behind Tulsi Vivah and its rites are told in the scripture, Padma Purana.  According to Hindu scripture, the Tulsi plant was at one time a woman named Vrinda (Brinda; a synonym of Tulsi). She was married to the demon-king Jalandhar, who due to her piety and devotion to Vishnu, became invincible. Even Shiva—the Destroyer in the Hindu Trinity—could not defeat Jalandhar, so he requested Vishnu – the preserver in the Trinity – to find a solution. Vishnu disguised himself as Jalandhar and tricked Vrinda into having sex.

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With her chastity destroyed, Jalandhar lost his power and was killed by Shiva. Vrinda used a curse on Vishnu to make him black in color and to be separated from his wife, Lakshmi. This was later fulfilled when he was transformed into the black Shaligram stone (a fossil), and in his Rama avatar, was separated from his wife Sita, who was kidnapped by the demon-king Ravana. Vrinda then drowned herself in the ocean, and the gods (or Vishnu himself) transferred her soul to a plant, which was henceforth called Tulsi. In accordance with a blessing by Vishnu to marry Vrinda in her next birth, Vishnu – in the form of Shaligram – married Tulsi on Prabodhini Ekadashi. To commemorate this event, the ceremony of Tulsi Vivah is performed.

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The marriage of Tulsi with Vishnu/Krishna resembles the traditional Hindu wedding. This ceremony is conducted at homes and also at temples. A fast is observed on the Tulsi Vivah day until evening when the ceremony begins. A mandap (marriage booth) is built around the courtyard of the house where the Tulsi plant is planted. The Tulsi plant is usually planted in center of the courtyard in a brick plaster called Tulsi vrindavana. It is believed that the soul of Vrinda resides in the plant at night and leaves in the morning. The bride Tulsi is clothed with a sari and ornaments including earrings and necklaces. A human paper face with a bindi and nose-ring – may be attached to Tulsi. The groom is a brass image or picture of Vishnu or Krishna or sometimes Balarama or more frequently the Shaligram stone – the symbol of Vishnu. The image is clothed in a dhoti. Both Vishnu and Tulsi are bathed and decorated with flowers and garlands before the wedding. The couple is linked with a cotton thread (mala) in the ceremony.

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In Maharashtra, an important ritual in the ceremony occurs when the white cloth is held between the bride and the groom and the priest recites the Mangal Ashtaka mantras. These mantras formally complete the wedding. Rice mixed with vermilion is showered by the attendees on Tulsi and Vishnu at the end of the recitation of the mantras with the word “Savadhan” (literally “be careful” implying “You are united now”. The white curtain is also removed. The attendees clap signifying approval to the wedding. Vishnu is offered sandalwood-paste, men’s clothing and the sacred thread. The bride is offered saris, turmeric, vermilion and a wedding necklace called Mangal-sutra, worn by married women. Sweets and food cooked for an actual wedding are cooked for Tulsi Vivah too. This ceremony is mostly performed by women. The prasad of sugar-cane, coconut chips, fruits and groundnut is distributed to devotees.

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The expenses of the wedding are usually borne by a daughter-less couple, who act as the parents of Tulsi in the ritual wedding. The giving away of the daughter Tulsi (kanyadaan) to Krishna is considered meritorious to the couple. The bridal offerings to Tulsi are given to a Brahmin priest or female ascetics after the ceremony. In two Rama temples in Saurashtra, the ceremony is more elaborate. An invitation card is sent to the groom’s temple by the bride’s temple. On Prabodhini Ekadashi, a barat bridal procession of Lalji – an image of Vishnu – sets off to the bride’s temple. Lalji is placed in a palanquin and accompanied by singing and dancing devotees. The barat is welcomed on the outskirts of Tulsi’s village and the ceremonial marriage is carried at the temple. At the bride’s side, Tulsi is planted in an earthen pot for the ceremony. People desirous of children perform Kanyadaan from Tulsi’s side acting as her parents. Bhajans are sung throughout the night and in the morning the barat of Lalji returns to their village with Tulsi.

Holy basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum, also known as Ocimum sanctum), is an important culinary and medicinal herb in India and Thailand. It should not be confused with Thai basil although it is somewhat similar, but with a very distinctive aroma and peppery taste. It’s virtually impossible to find fresh in Western markets, but it’s very easy to grow and is a pretty plant with leaves of varied colors and a purple flower. This website gives you all you need to know about growing it: http://www.heirloom-organics.com/guide/va/guidetogrowingholybasil.html  It’s just like growing regular basil, and I’ve done it many times with little effort. It is well worth it.

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One of my favorite Thai dishes using holy basil is phat kaphrao. “Phat” is “fry” and “kaphrao” is “holy basil”.  You can make the dish with pork or chicken. I prefer pork. As per usual, you’re best off going to Thailand for the proper dish. I’ve had it cooked many times by Thai chefs, and have not been wonderfully successful making it at home. Once I goaded a Thai chef in Santa Fe to make me phat kaphrao the way he liked it, and it was HOT !!! He laughed when I ate it all in front of him, sweat pouring down my face.  This is a stir fry, so make sure you have all the ingredients prepared before you start. Another problem I have outside of Asia is getting the wok hot enough. Here’s a video if you want real hands on Thai:

My recipe here is a little different from the one in the video, but the results are about the same. In the video she uses a combination of hot and sweet chiles to accentuate the chile flavor. This is a good idea if you are not a fan of hot.

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©Phat Kaphrao

Ingredients

1 tbsp. of vegetable oil
¾ lb/300gm minced pork or chicken
1 red onion, peeled and chopped
4 cloves garlic
2 Thai chiles
1 kaffir lime leaf, thinly sliced
1 tsp Thai fish sauce
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp lime juice
sugar
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1 large handful Holy basil leaves

Instructions

Pound the chiles in a mortar, then add the garlic and pound to a coarse paste. Place in a small bowl ready for use.

Mix together in a small bowl, the fish sauce, soy sauce, lime juice, and oyster sauce. Dilute with a small amount of water. Add the sugar and stir the whole mixture until the sugar is completely dissolved.

Heat the vegetable oil in a wok as hot as you can get it.

Sauté the onion, garlic, chiles, and kaffir lime leaf briefly (about 30 to 45 seconds). Add the pork or chicken and sauté, stirring constantly, until the meat is cooked. If you have a good, hot flame this will not take long (about 2 minutes). You can use pre-cooked meat, but I don’t like to.

Add the sauce mixture and keep stirring until it is heated through and thickened.

Add the basil leaves and toss a few more times until they are just wilted.

Serve with plain boiled Jasmine rice and one fried egg per person with extra fish sauce plus chopped chiles on the side.

Serves 4