Deepavali, a sanskrit word meaning “A row of lights” is as much a festival of fun and frolic as much it stands for a deeper meaning. Celebrated as a symbolic of victory of good over evil, light over dark, knowledge over ignorance, it signifies freedom for the mind from the clutter of dark thoughts and spiritual illumination for the soul.
While in North India, it is celebrated to commemorate Lord Rama’s return with Seetha after his triumph over Ravana, the ten headed wicked demon who abducted her, Deepavali in many parts of South India is mostly celebrated over three days for different legendary reasons. The first day is Naraka Chathurdashi on the 14th day of the Hindu month to celebrate the victory of lord Krishna over the mighty demon, Narakasura. The second day is Lakshmi Pooja on Amavaasya (New moon day) to celebrate the rebirth of goddess Lakshmi during Samudra Manthan (churning of the ocean of milk) and lastly the third day, Bali Paadyami on Paadya (first day of the month) to celebrate the victory of Lord Vishnu incarnated as a dwarf (vaamana in Dashaavataara) over the demon king, Bali when he was pushed to Paathaala, the netherworld.
Sitting miles away from home in front of the laptop, typing this post away, what I miss the most are the nuances of the festival that made it so special throughout my childhood and adolescent years.
Typically, the evening before Deepavali known as Neeru tumbo habba (literally translates to Water filling festival), bathrooms would be cleaned to a shine and decorated with flowers and rangoli and water be stocked up in as many huge containers and cauldrons as possible in preparation for the next morning’s Abhyanga Snana (full body oil bath). A huge copper cauldron full of boiling hot water heated through the night awaited us at 4:00 in the morning. After a customary Enne Shastra the “oil ritual”, a full body oil massage followed ending with an almost scalding hot water bath with Shikakai and besan only as soap. Dressed in brand new clothes smeared with a pinch of turmeric for auspices, mouth full of sweets, a lit incense stick in one hand and a favorite fire crackers in the other, rushing out the door to be the first on the street to burst them almost always make up the first of the mental pictures of my flashbacks of this day..
Today, I cannot help but recount and hope that I can relive those beautiful memories when my little girl gets to enjoy the simple richness of that experience some day..
Traditionally, Gulab Jamun and Vella Kozhukattai for sweets and Paruppu Urundai and Khara Sevai for savory have been the norm since childhood.
Food experiences make up for most of our nostalgic memories and as much as I miss celebrating the traditional way, being here in the US, I felt it was appropriate to celebrate fall and the festival of lights together in one! And Pumpkin Halwa has got to be one of the simpler sweet recipes calling for just five ingredients and the best way to do exactly that..
I wasn’t too fond of Pumpkin until my foray into blogging, when holiday recipes such as this Pumpkin Pie lured me into opening my mind and broadening my cooking/baking horizon. Since then, I haven’t looked back much when it comes to this sunset-orange autumn vegetable.
None could tell there was pumpkin in it, even when they were certain that a vegetable was in there! I was quite pleasantly surprised myself with how instantly I fell in love with its mild taste, daintily sweet enough to satisfy my sweet tooth!
The recipe is so simple and unassuming that it might quickly become a part of your culinary repertoire without your knowledge. Just give it that first chance.
Wish you a Happy and Wonderful Deepavali!
May this Deepavali brighten your lives with much joy, bliss, love, peace and serenity..
* (1 can = 14 oz or 396 g) I use Borden – Eagle brand
How it’s done:
Wash and cut the tiny pumpkins in half, remove the seeds and pith and microwave cut side up for 5-6 minutes or until soft. Do not add any water. Let cool and scoop out the cooked pulp with a curved spoon. Mash this pulp for uniform consistency.
Heat ghee in a thick bottom pan on medium. Sauté mashed pumpkin for 10 mins or until rawness subsides. Add condensed milk and crush saffron between your fingertips into it. Cook stirring well intermittently until the Halwa comes together as one mass away from all sides of the pan or about 20 mins. Switch off and let cool. Take care to not let the halwa burn or brown.
To roast the pumpkin seeds, microwave on a plate for 2 mins in 30 sec intervals, shuffling them in between. Alternatively dry roast on a pan on low heat until fragrant.
Serve warm or cold garnished with roasted pumpkin seeds.
If you can’t find tiny pumpkins, use the slightly bigger sugar pumpkins, they are also pulpier. Store bought pumpkin puree can also be used. It might take a little longer to cook as it has more moisture content.
Do not leave the stove to attend to other things or the Halwa can get burnt in a jiffy. Stirring intermittently is an important thing to do.
If you are not a big fan of pumpkin seeds, feel free to use a garnish of your choice. I don’t see why ghee fried or roasted and slivered cashews, pistachios or almonds won’t go well.
If you don’t have ghee, substitute with butter. Whatever happens, please don’t use oil.