Thiruvathira is a unique festival of Kerala that happens in January. This is exclusively a women’s festival. The legend Parvati, the consort of Lord Siva, took a vow restricting very many food items. She understood these vows for the welfare of Siva as well as her devotion to her husband. Thiruvathira comes in the month of Makaram according to the Kerala calendar that corresponds to January, the coldest part of the year. On this day the women go to nearby pools or a river and get into the chilly water for a bath. They sing songs of praise for Parvati. After the bath, they go home and follow a restricted diet omitting rice completely. The food they eat consists of wheat grain cooked instead of rice, a special curry called Puzhuku, made of various tubers and vegetables. They also make a special pudding made of arrowroot powder.

 

During this festival most of the women wear Mundu and Veshti. They also make special swings with coconut fiber ropes on which the women and children play during the day.

 

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The Festival of Lights is celebrated today across Kerala and Tamil Nadu in South India as well as the rest of the country. Deepavali, the original name for this festival came from the words deepa that means light and vali that means row. The name literally means row of lights. The name was shortened to Diwali by Hindi speakers in north India.

 

Deepavali symbolizes a culture that values knowledge over ignorance, light over darkness and goodness over evil. Today it symbolizes hope, friendship and the joy of life. It is a time for friendship and sharing.  Even though this is a cultural holiday, Goddess Lakshmi is the main deity who brings wealth and prosperity to every home.

 

To find out more about Deepavali, check out these posts:

 

What is Deepavali

The Legends of Deepavali

Getting Ready for Deepavali

Celebrating Deepavali

 

I wish you Happy Deepavali with best wishes for a prosperous year.

 

 

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The Kerala festival, Pooram, is an extravagant event that occurs each year after the summer harvest. Each town has its own festival, many of which feature an elephant decorated with gold ornaments and trappings. Some smaller festivals may use dressed up horses or men instead. 

 

The festival in Thrissur is the most well known since many elephants are sent here to participate in the pageantry. More than two-dozen elephants each ridden by three specially trained mahouts (elephant riders) in their finery line up and parade down the street. As the elephants parade, they are accompanied by the sound of traditional instruments, conch shell, cymbals, trumpets and drums. Everyone comes out to see the impressive and majestic sight. Since this is India, Thrissur Pooram would not be complete without many rounds of firecrackers to wind up the day. It is a fun time for everyone in Kerala!

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Puthandu, the Tamil New Year, is the celebration of the first day of the new year. It is occurs on the 13th or 14th of April every year during the month of Chitterai, the first month of the year in the solar calendar. This year it is on April 13.
 

Brass lights used during festivals.

Brass lights used during festivals.

 

This day starts with houses being decorated with detailed kolams that are geometric chalk drawings placed outside the front door to each home. Traditionally, they would be drawn very carefully by hand. Now people can buy templates that make this process much easier. Flowers are also placed around the house. Since this is India, the day is marked with an elaborate feast.

 

Happy New Year!

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Sixty-two years ago today, the Constitution of an independent India took effect. For many years, the Indian National Congress, a main political party, championed the struggle to gain independence for India. On January 26, 1930, the Indian National Congress held a meeting in Mumbai (then called Bombay) and passed a momentous resolution challenging the British rule to give and declare the country as the independent Republic of India. India gained its independence on August 15, 1947. Happy Indian Republic Day!

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Today is Deepavali, or the festival of lights. Deepavali is the original word for this festival that is used in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. As it spread throughout India, the name was shortened to the more common form in Hindi, Diwali. Deepa means light and vali means row, so the name literally means row of lights. It is the most important festival in all parts of India except Kerala and Bengal. 

Brass oil lamps

Oil lamps made from brass.

 

Deepavali symbolizes a culture that values knowledge over ignorance, light over darkness and goodness over evil. Today it symbolizes hope, friendship and the joy of life. It is a time for friendship and sharing.  Even though this is a cultural holiday, Goddess Lakshmi is the main deity who brings wealth and prosperity to every home.  The sweet smelling herb tulasi (basil) is grown in most houses in Kerala and Tamil Nadu which people believe represents the Goddess Lakshmi.

 

I wish you happy Deepavali with best wishes for a prosperous year.

 

To find out more about the story of how Deepavali came to be celebrated, click here.

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Today is Onam, the harvest festival that is celebrated throughout Kerala. It is celebrated in a big way with prayers, new clothes, boat racing, dancing, and, of course, a lot of vegetarian food. I think I will make some Semia Payasam (a favorite pudding with vermicelli) as a surprise for my husband when he comes home from work this afternoon.

 

Read about the legend of King Mahabali and how he was tricked by Lord Vishnu and the events that led to the festival called Onam.
 
 

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Vishu is the New Year festival in Kerala and is the second largest after Onam (which is celebrated in September). Vishu occurs on April 15th on the western calendar or the first day in the month of Medam in the Malayalam calendar.  Occasionally the Tamil New Year occurs on the same day.


Based on tradition it is important to begin the new year on the right foot because the way it starts is an indicator for the rest of the year. Upon waking on Vishu, the first thing that the eye should see is something auspicious: Lord Vishnu’s picture decorated with flowers and jewelry. This is called Vishukkani.


The night before the festival Vishu, the pooja, or prayer, room is cleaned and decorated with the most important deity in Hinduism, Lord Vishu, the protector of the universe. Surrounding the deity are gold ornaments, gold and silver coins, kasavu mundu (the traditional saree of Kerala), and fruit and vegetables like mangos and jackfruit.


On Vishu day, everyone in the house wakes up very early and, one by one, they are brought with their eyes closed by the oldest member of the family to the pooja room. They open their eyes in front of Vishukani. After Vishukani is seen by everyone, the oldest member gives a gift of money to every family member representing prosperity and happiness. Traditionally gold or silver coins were given but now paper bills have replaced the coins. As soon as this is over, the family sets off firecrackers.


Women dress in the traditional clothing of Kerala, the mundu and veshti (wrap around skirt and shawl), that have artistic designs woven with gold threads.


In Kerala, people flock to the famous temple of Krishna at Guruvayoor to see the Vishukani. All of the temples have special poojas followed by fireworks where they use a kadina which is exclusive to Kerala.  A kadina is a strong steel cylinder that is closed at one end.  In the closed end, a pin hole has been cut.  One third of the cylinder is filled with gunpowder.  Over that, pieces of paper topped with pebbles are placed. The kadina is placed in a wide open field and a thin line of gunpowder is placed from the pin hole all the way to the edge of the field where it is lit.  When the flame reaches the kadina, a deafeningly loud noise is made.


The lunch for Vishu is elaborate and consists of the traditional Kerala vegetarian delicacies which are served on banana leaves.


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Every year, January 26th is celebrated as Indian Republic Day – the day in 1950 that the Constitution of India took effect. For many years, the Indian National Congress, a main political party, championed the struggle to gain independence for India. Britain considered India as a jewel in the Empire and was reluctant to abandon its rule.  On January 26, 1930, the Indian National Congress held a meeting in Mumbai (then called Bombay) and passed a momentous resolution challenging the British rule to give and declare the country as the independent Republic of India.  The leaders who helped to craft this resolution were Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Vallabhai Patel, Moulana Abdul Kalam Azad and Rajendra Prasad.  India gained independence on August 15, 1947.

 

Now a public holiday, flags are raised in all public places and sweets are given to school children.

 

Indian Flag

 

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Deepavali is celebrated in all states in India except for Kerala.  It is a festival that is celebrated by people of many religions.  It has components of tradition and prayer as well as fun and food.  The main day of Deepavali starts before dawn and even the evening before with the bursting of firecrackers that can be heard everywhere.  People compete with their neighbors to have the best and loudest fireworks.  People are woken up by the sound of a nagaswaram (or nadaswaram), an important loud double reed wind instrument in Tamil Nadu like an oboe that is played at important events and in temples, and drum played by musicians walking through the streets as a harbinger of good luck.

 

The day starts at 4:00 am in every house when people have a luxurious oil bath to sooth and condition their skin.  This is followed by a Lakshmi pooja where an offering of gold, silver and fruit is made.  Oil diyas (traditional lamps made from clay or brass with cotton wicks) are lit and decorate the family’s pooja room (a room dedicated to meditation and prayer).  The elders bless the whole family for a bright future.
 

The women wear mostly Kanchipuram silk sarees and men wear gold laced dhotis (a traditional garment that is a long rectangular piece of cloth tha tis wrapped and tied around the waist) and new shirts. After the pooja, people set off their firecrackers.  This continues all day but with less intensity as the day goes on.  Delicious steaming hot Pooris are made for breakfast in most homes.
 

Brass oil lamps

Oil lamps made from brass.


Most families follow the ritual of visiting the temples and their relatives.  Giving gifts of food is an important part of the tradition. Newly married couples also visit their parents and in-laws houses to receive their blessings as part of this tradition. Women, dressed in their beautiful sarees, bring a tray loaded with a variety of delicious homemade sweets and savories when they visit their friends.  The treats include milk sweets like Burfi, Peda, Mysore Paak, Jalebi, and Laddu, and snacks like Murukku, Cheeda and Madras Mixture.

 

In the evening rows of oil lamps are arranged around the front porch of every house and lit. The purpose of the lamps is to guide the Goddess Lakshmi in finding her way into people’s homes.  In addition, it symbolizes knowledge over ignorance, light over darkness and goodness over evil. It is an amazing sight to see house after house lit with these twinkling lights which truly represents the meaning of Deepavali (row of lights) and makes a nice end to a beautiful festival.
 

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