Once everyone is back to their usual routine after the long Diwali break, a special celebration begins in Himachal Pradesh.
The festive fervour is gripping the country as everyone gears up in the best of their attires, only to light up their houses and gorge on the tempting ladoos and barfis laid out on the tray. Mithai, aka sweets are an indispensable part of any Indian festival. In fact, any celebration calls for something sweet. While the rest of the country is busy prepping for the festival of lights, the hilly terrains of Nirmand and Shimla speak a different story. For them, if you ask, they would be eagerly waiting for the five-day Diwali celebrations to get over so that they can begin with their pomp and show.
Yes, you read that right. While the country runs on the same time-zone, Diwali comes a little late in these remote villages of Himachal. Locally known as Boodhi Diwali, the festive season begins for the people of Nirmand, Simaur and small areas of Shimla like Chopal after Bhai Dooj. This curiously-named tradition derives its essence from the day on which it is celebrated. A three-day long festival that may extend up to a week, Boodhi Diwali begins on the first night of amavasya after Diwali. Since the sky is devoid of the moon on the night of amavasya, it is pitch dark. To acknowledge the darkness, it is called Boodhi Diwali.
While etymology gives us this understanding of the festival, there are several tales attached to this special tradition. It is based on the belief that when Lord Ram returned to Ayodhya after exile, the entire country was celebrating their victory except these remote areas of Himachal. The logic given is that news of their return reached these regions quite late because of their geographical positioning. This resulted in a delayed celebration in the pahadi areas and has been practiced since then.
There’s another significance of this festival as it is believed that after a laborious and tiring harvest season, winters are the time to relax and make merry. People rejoice at the onset of winters, playing thoda (archery) during the day and carrying marshals and dancing to the tunes of Boodhi dance (a special regional dance style) at night. Several theatrical depictions of Ramayana also take place during the day after which a rope is weaved to look like a snake and dissected later to mark the vanquished demons.
While the celebrations are conducted with a lot of festive feeling, it was the animal sacrifices that used to be at the heart of the Boodhi Diwali. Goats were offered to the deities on each day which was eliminated from the list of rituals since it was a burden on the poor. However, one food tradition that has continued to this day is that of eating patande.
Patande can be thought of as Indian pancakes, which is a special sweet that is served on Boodhi Diwali in Himachal Pradesh. Originating from the Simaur district, this sweet meat is actually a kind of sweet dosa that is prepared using flour, best eaten with sugar or jaggery and oodles of ghee. The batter is poured on to the pan and it is cooked until it turns golden brown. While this local sweet has a festive flavour to it, it is also consumed as a breakfast item in the hills. Similar to patande, there’s another sweet which is deep-fried and eaten with sugar called askloo. The only difference is that it is made of rice flour and has a crispy texture.
Along with these, there is another sweet meat that features in the Boodhi Diwali feasts called Babru. Deep-fried kachoris made of wheat flour and jaggery are stuffed with black gram that has been soaked overnight. While the sweet taste makes it perfect to be eaten alone, you can always have it with some subzi to complement the crispy texture.
Finally, to give rest to your sweet tooth, the simple and rustic festive meal features sidku, a bread that is unique to the Himachali region. This traditional bread is made of wheat flour and often stuffed with walnuts, urad dal and poppy seeds. This is considered to be a very healthy meal in the hilly areas as it is light, fluffy and filling and nutritious too.
The course of Boodhi Diwali is spread over three days and the delicious local food is relished by the people amidst folk songs and dance performances with brightly-lit bonfires.