In the bustling city of Mumbai, where air quality ranges from poor to hazardous, my Maa's face lights up at the mere mention of gaonwali Diwali.
It's a journey that transports her back to the snow-clad mountains of Pauri Garhwal in Uttarakhand, where the air is crisp, and the celebrations resonate with the beauty of tradition.
For my mother, Diwali in Uttarakhand isn't just a festival; it's a cascade of memories that winds its way through Choti (small), Badi, and Egas (Ekadashi, 11 days after Diwali) Bagwal celebrations.
The magic begins with Choti Diwali, she narrates with a gleam in her eyes. It is a day dedicated to their cherished cattle. Mornings were spent in the quest for flowers, crafting delicate garlands that adorn the animals.
She recounts, with child-like glee, how the elders pleaded for a few blooms for their own puja. While the elders prepare a feast of sweetened rice, kheer, puris, and dal, my Maa eagerly anticipated the highlight of Diwali -- Gulgule! Those sweet treats melted in their mouths, creating moments of pure joy.
Generosity is woven into the fabric of Diwali in Uttarakhand. Puri production was a grand affair, as they prepared not only for their own celebration, but also to share with relatives and neighbouring villages that weren't partaking in the festivities. Families in mourning, following a local tradition, refrained from deep-fried items for a year, making the sharing of pur is and Gulgules a gesture of compassion.
The festivities continued with the preparation of pinda, a ball made from various millet and lentil flours, dedicated to the well-being of the cattle. Garlands of flowers adorned their noble companions, their horns gently massaged with oil, and the pinda offered as a token of gratitude.
In pre-1990s Uttarakhand, Diwali wasn't about lamps and firecrackers. Mustard oil, a precious commodity, was reserved for cooking and personal use. Instead, the warm glow came from torches made of chir pine bark, illuminating the hillsides.
As night fell, the villagers gathered at the panchayat chowk for the spirited game of Bhailu. Tied together with a dried creeper, inner shavings of the pine tree transformed into a fiery spectacle. Fire dances on the rope as men and women compete joyously to see who can spin it the longest, the flames casting shadows against the dark mountain backdrop.
The tradition of Bhailu has woven itself into the cultural tapestry of Uttarakhand for centuries.
Diwali in Uttarakhand resonates with more than just visual beauty; it echoes with the soulful tunes of traditional songs and the rhythmic beats of group folk dances like Jhumeila and Chaufula. Each step seems to sync with the pulse of the hills, creating a symphony that reverberates through the valleys.
For my Maa, thousands of miles away in Mumbai, these memories bring solace. Though physically distant, the spirit of gaonwali Diwali keeps her connected to the mystic hills of Uttarakhand, painting a vivid tapestry of love, laughter, and longing.
Here is her recipe of Gulgule. After living in Mumbai for 40 years my Maa has modified the recipe with ¼ teaspoon baking soda and 2 mashed bananas
- 1½ cups aatta or wheat flour
- 1 cup water
- ½ cup jaggery
- ½ teaspoon sonf or fennel seeds
- Oil for deep frying (use mustard oil if you want the goanwali taste)
- ¼ tsp baking soda
- 2 mashed bananas
- My mom began the creation of our beloved Gulgulas with a heartwarming combination of jaggery and ½ cup of the water.
Now, mix the wheat flour, fennel, baking soda, baking soda, bananas.
Pour in the remaining water.
Beat the mixture for 2 minutes or until the batter achieves a velvety smoothness.
- Cover and rest the batter for 30 minutes or more.
- Beat the batter again for a minute making sure the batter has enough airy texture.
Wet your hand with water, scoop a tbsp batter, and drop it into hot oil.
Flip occasionally and fry the gulgulas over medium heat until they turn a rich, dark golden brown.
Drain off the excess oil and transfer to a tissue or paper towel-lined plate.