We began our Deepavali celebrations by telling Class 5 a story, fter listening to the story, the children drew some pictures of this festival.
"Sarasu, are you awake?"
"Sarasu, where are you? Sarasu, Sarasu " Ganesh jumped off his mat, carefully folded his blanket and went to prod his twin sister.
"Sarasu, wake up, wake up, it's Deepavali".
Sarasu peered out from under her blanket. "Ganesh, it's still dark".
Ganesh looked at the clock. It was 4 o'clock in the morning. "But we have to go and have our oil bath before the sun gets up - come on, remember Appa said that if we get ourselves ready properly we can light just a few firecrackers before we do puja and eat. Sarasu, Sarasu "
With the mention of firecrackers, Sarasu was happy to get up - she loved the crackle and pop sound they made, and the bright lights sparkling in the night sky. And besides, Ganesh was her twin brother and they did everything together.
So Sarasu and Ganesh went to take their oil baths. Ganesh loved the smell of sesame oil in his hair and skin. Sarasu like putting the shikaikaay powder on best because she could splash it everywhere. The only thing she didn't like was that the shikka powder and oil often got into her eyes.
When they were both ready they went to see what their Amma and Appa were doing. Amma was busy making fresh hot idlies and vadai, with a special sambhar and some coconut chutney. Because it was Deepavali, their Appa had bought some mutton to cook for them all to eat.
"Good morning," said their Amma. She smiled at her twins. "Happy Deepavali children, you both look so beautiful in your new Deepavali clothes. Sarasu, I'm glad that you found that jasmine flower that I kept for your hair." Ganesh had already put sandalpaste on his forehead.
"Yes Amma, Happy Deepavali, Happy Deepavali Appa."
Sarasu and Ganesh smiled happily at each other. They were both 11 years old and beginning to look quite grown-up. They both looked at their Appa with big brown eyes, as if to ask something .
"Come on you little monkeys. I know, I know I promised you we would light just a few firecrackers, even though we should wait until after the puja, but I know you have both really helped your Amma this Deepavali time.
They all went outside.
"Now be careful, don't stand too close." Sarasu gasped "oh, listen to the sound." She was so excited she could hardly stand still and started hopping from one foot to the other. Ganesh giggled at his sister, sometimes she was just like a baby. But Ganesh loved his sister very much and soon began to jump up and down with her.
"Appa, why do we always take oil baths so early?" asked Ganesh.
"Well, we remember Lord Krishna when we take our baths. Many years ago there was a demon king called Naraghasura who was the ruler of Pragjyotishpur. He defeated Lord Indra, King of the Devas and took the beautiful gold earrings of Aditi, the Mother Goddess and then imprisoned 16,000 daughters of the gods and saints in his harem and would not let them go. Lord Krishna came and killed the demon and freed all the girls and took back the earrings. As a symbol of his victory, Lord Krishna smeared his head with the demon king's blood. After the battle, he returned back to his home early the next day before sunrise and the women massaged scented oil on his body and washed him so that the Lord Krishna was nice and clean."
"I wonder if Lord Krishna wore new clothes after his oil bath, like us" wondered Sarasu, speaking her thoughts out loud.
Amma poked her head outside, smiling at her children - they looked like they were all having a lot of fun. Deepavali was such a special time. It was good for the family to be together.
"Sarasu, come let's make our home look really clean and tidy. You can sweep the floors nicely." Sarasu took the broom and worked really hard. After sometime, her Amma said, "now let's start to work on a special kolam for Deepavali" and Sarasu and her Amma went outside with many different coloured powders.
The sun was beginning to rise and as Sarasu worked with her mother, she asked,
"Why do we always put kolam outside the house?"
Her Amma replied, "To invite the Gods into our house to bless and protect us. And of course to keep away any evil spirits".
"I wonder what time the Gods will come and visit today," said Sarasu, thinking aloud.
Her Amma just smiled at her youngest daughter.
Meanwhile Ganesh was helping his Appa outside, feeding the cattle and cleaning out the cattle shed. Ganesh's favourite cow was a very old cow, her name was Gunalakshmi.
"Happy Deepavali Gunalakshmi". The cow looked up at Ganesh for a moment and then carried on chewing at some grass.
"Ganesh, Ganesh," called Sarasu from the front of the house. "Come and see, look what Amma and I have done. Ganesh went around the house and could not help but open his mouth wide with astonishment. The kolam outside the house was always so beautiful, but today, it was something really special. Right in the middle of the swirling circles was a big peacock dancing under a mango tree, it was just super. Ganesh thought his sister was the best sister ever, she was so clever.
Appa had been busy washing the door and the floors and was almost finished as Amma came out with tumeric paste which she was going to put in little dots decorating the door.
"Ganesh, why don't you go and fetch lots of neem and mango leaves from our neighbour Govindasami's garden and then place them in and around the house.
"Amma, Amma, can I make a garland out of leaves for the front door like I did last year?
"I think that would be really good" replied his Amma.
Ganesh was happy to be part of the preparations for Deepavali but he was also a little impatient and was getting hungry. "Can I have a vadai first Amma?"
"First we must offer the food to the Gods. Only after they have blessed our food can we eat and it is important that we get everything ready before we start our puja."
An hour later, everything was nearly done.
"Okay, children, come. Ganesh, go and cut some banana leaves from our garden. Make sure you get 3 really good ones to lay in front of the pictures of Goddess Lakshmi, Lord Ganesh and Lord Murugan."
Amma started to lay all the food she had been preparing in the morning on the 3 leaves, placed before the Gods.
"Ganesh, Sarasu, call your Appa and ask him to break the coconut in half. Don't forget to give him a glass for the coconut water.
Amma carefully placed the 2 halves of coconut either side of the Gods, along with some bananas. She took the brass plate that had both pan leaves and betel nuts on it, together with the vibhuti (white ash), kumkum, and tumeric powder.
"Sarasu, open one of the bananas, light some incense and place the stick inside the banana". Sarasu loved the smell of agarbathi; Ganesh liked watching the little trail of smoke disappear.
get the camphor - I think it's in the shopping bag beside the
cooking pans." Ganesh ran and returned quickly. He always enjoyed doing puja, but thought that if he was feeling so hungry, the poor Gods must be too. Ganesh gave his Amma the camphor and she lit it from the shiny brass oil lamp, which they always used for worship.
As the camphor started to burn and the flickering flames grew higher, Amma took the brass plate with the burning camphor and made 3 circular movements around the Gods. She then brought the plate close to each family member in turn. Amma put vibhuti on her children's foreheads, placing God's blessing on each of them.
"Now Ganesh, Sarasu, hold this plate very carefully and make sure you go everywhere in the house as well as outside. After a few moments the twins returned and placed the brass plate in front of the Gods. Ganesh then sprinkled coconut water 3 times in front of the fire. Sarasu was ringing the puja bell and the whole family put their hands together in prayer, asking for blessings for themselves and the rest of the world on this auspicious day celebrating the triumph of good over evil.
"Come and eat now, " said Amma. Sarasu and Ganesh were more than happy now to listen to their Amma as they sat down in front of their banana leaves as Amma served food for the whole family.
After eating, Ganesh said to Sarasu, "Let's go and visit Mr Chamanlal."
Mr and Mrs Chamanlal were an elderly couple who lived next door. They had been their neighbours for many years now, settling in the south of India after spending a long time in Delhi in the north. Mr Chamanlal always told all the children who came to visit a special Deepavali story and Mrs Chamanlal would make everybody some special mithais that many people eat in the North of India, some delicious halwa and laddu's with a good sherbert drink to wash them down with.
With that, Ganesh and Sarasu disappeared around the corner, off to visit the Chamanlals. "Happy Deepavali lemon tree" called Ganesh. "Happy Deepavali hibiscus flower" cried out Sarasu. Their mother had always reminded them how the whole earth celebrated Deepavali - and that it was important to honour them all.
"Happy Deepavali Chamanlal Uncle. Happy Deepavali Prabha Aunty" cried Ganesh and Sarasu together.
"You're just in time. "Inge vanga - Happy Deepavali children. Come in, sit down. Uncle is just about to start his Deepavali story. I'll bring you both some panagam."
The children went into the front room and sat in front of Mr Chamanlal who smiled at them both. "Inge vanga. Welcome children. Come in quickly. Happy Deepavali. "
"Happy Deepavali Chamanlal Uncle" said Ganesh and Sarasu together. Mrs Chamanlal brought them both a sherbert drink, which was one of their favourite drinks. She also gave them some halwa and a laddu each and told them happily "I hope you like them, I made them myself." There were many other children from the village there, there was always such a happy atmosphere at the Chamanlals. They did not have children of their own, and so loved having the village children round to tell stories and share sweets.
Mr Chamanlal began to tell his special Deepavali story about the beautiful and good prince Rama who was banished to live in a forest and had to fight with many ugly demons including the demon king Ravana. The children all knew the story very well, for it is told in the Ramayana, but Mr Chamanlal would especially tell the part about Rama's return from 14 years of exile with his princess bride Sita. For when Rama returned from the forest, to take his rightful place as ruler of the kingdom of Ayodhya, there was the greatest celebration on earth as all the people of the land came to enjoy the return of their much loved prince and princess. The whole city was lit with torches and bands of musicians played in the streets. All the temples were decorated with beautiful garlands of flowers and the roads were covered with petals. This festival, with many hundreds of lights, great music and dancing and feasting by all people everywhere was then always celebrated each year as Deepavali. Rama was a great king and ruled wisely and well for the rest of his life.
Ganesh and Sarasu listened to this story every Deepavali but loved hearing it again and again. They thanked Aunty and Uncle Chamanlal and went back to their home. Sasikala - their older sister who got married last year was coming to visit.
Ganesh and Sarasu did not see much of Sasikala. She was married and very busy now with her new family. But on special occasions like Deepavali she was able to come and visit - and anyway she would always bring some delicious sweets.
"Happy Deepavali akka" said both Sarasu and Ganesh together. Sasikala smiled at her little brother and sister.
"Guess what I have for you both?"
Sarasu and Ganesh looked at each other, their eyes getting bigger and bigger, because they could see that Sasikala had a big box in her hand. They took off the ribbon, opened the lid and inside were laddus and adeerasam, murakku, somas, even some sooiyen.
"Where have you been? I was looking for you this morning."
"Chamanlal Uncle was telling us about why people who come from the north of India celebrate Deepavali - to celebrate Rama's return from the forest."
"Look, I've just made some hot panagam (jaggery, lemon, cardamom) for you both to drink. Do you want to hear another story about why we celebrate Deepavali in the south of India?"
"Oh yes please aka."
With that, Sarasu and Ganesh plopped themselves down on the mat, both eating a laddu as their older sister began.
"Many years ago lived a king called King Hima. He had a 16 year old son who was about to get married."
"Rama was 16 too when he got married, " said Ganesh.
"Ganesh, we know, we know. Be quiet. Let's listen to the story. You always interrupt." said Sarasu.
"Sorry" said Ganesh
It was true, Ganesh often didn't sit still or started talking when listening to stories. He didn't mean to, it was just that he would get so excited. He thought to himself that he would try a bit harder to really listen carefully, after all he didn't want to miss anything - his akka always told such good stories.
"Well", continued Sasikala. "It was told that on the 4th day of his marriage this son was doomed to die by snake bite. Now the prince had a very lovely and beautiful young bride who loved her husband and wanted to share many years of happily married life together. So she decided that she was not going to let him sleep. So on the 4th day of their marriage, the young bride lay out all the ornaments and gold and silver they had at the front door of the prince's bedroom. There were gold pots and gold pans and silver spoons and silver coins. All together they made a very big pile that almost reached the ceiling. And in the room, the young bride filled many lemon skins with oil as well as placing hundreds and hundreds of little oil lamps everywhere. She lit them all and the whole room was full of bright lights and flickering flames."
That night the young bride sat up telling her husband prince many stories and singing many wonderful songs. In the middle of the night the God of death, Yama appeared hiding in the form of a snake. He slid closer to the prince's room, but found so many bright gold and silver pots and pans and coins everywhere, it was hard for him to move. And the gold and silver was so bright it dazzled the snake so he decided to sit on top of them. He was so blinded by the dazzle of lights, Yama the snake did not enter the room. But he could hear many sweet songs being sung, so he just sat and listened to the young bride's singing and stories for the whole night. He was so enjoying himself that in the morning he just went away quietly.
Since then, this first day of Deepavali, also called Dhanteras, is often called the day of Yamadeepdaan and oil lamps are kept burning throughout the night in memory of our love for the God of death, Yama.
"That was a really good story," said Sarasu. "I'm going to start preparing the oil lamps for the evening, so that we can also celebrate Yamadeepdaan with lots of oil lamps all over the house."
"Ganesh, Ganesh, we can also light the fountains and sparklers and all those fireworks. I love Deepavali, the whole day and night is just so much fun."
"Yes, said Ganesh, I wish everyday could be Deepavali day".
"Here" said Ganesh passing his sister another laddu
Sarasu sat happily eating her laddu as they both sat down busily making decorations together. Many of their family were coming for a special dinner in the evening and there would be lots more fireworks to look forward to.