While most people are familiar with the five days of Diwali, most are still unaware of the fact that the Gujarati new year, Bestu Varas, also falls within this festive period. Slurrp caught up with true-blue Gujju chefs and homecooks who gave us a glimpse not only the significance and rituals associated with Bestu Varas, but also the delicacies enjoyed at that time. Read on for more.
Diwali this year, like every year, is all about preparing for Lakshmi-Ganesh Puja, dusting off those Rangoli colours and moulds, thinking up the feast you want to offer, lighting diyas and fairy lights and coming together with loved ones for a good time. And while most people across India and the world know all about the five days of Diwali, starting with Dhanteras and ending with Bhai Dooj, many are unaware of the traditional Gujarati festival of Bestu Varas which is a part of Diwali celebrations in the state and wherever in the world Gujaratis are.
For those unaware, Bestu Varas refers to the end of the old year and beginning of the new one, and is one of the key festivals in Gujarat. Urmila Ben Asher, better known to the world as the Gujju Ben who cooks up some amazing Nashta, says that Bestu Varas is observed two days after Diwali, basically on the day after Govardhan Puja, and Gujaratis believe it to be the beginning of the new year. This year, Bestu Varas will be celebrated on November 13, and the Gujarati new year will begin from November 14, 2023.
“We say Nutan Varsha Na Abhinandan or Saal Mubarak to each other on this day,” she explains. “We feast for four-five days around that time beginning with Dhanteras and ending with Bhai Beej. Every day, we make something new to celebrate. I don’t have too many sweets now because I have diabetes. So, now I make Chole-Puri, Puri-Sabzi, Puran Poli, etc on Bestu Varas. I used to eat these very same dishes when I was a kid.”
“Diwali-Bestu Varas is an age-old tradition that we have of celebrating the new year by going to visit our elders,” says Chef Pranav Joshi, who is originally from Ahmedabad. “So, if you are younger, then you must visit your elders—that's how this festival traditionally functions. But nowadays things have changed and it is now all about families and people gathering together in one place rather than travelling from door to door.”
For Chef Renu Dalal, daughter of the late Padma Shri Tarla Dalal, Diwali and Bestu Varas have always been a key part of their family life. “I would look forward to bursting the crackers with my family,” she explains. “We would have Lakshmi Puja done in the office and the entire family would go the temple. The entrance of the house would be decorated with a toran and would get rangoli done at the entrance. We would wish all family members and friends on the new year. Sweets and snacks were prepared in the house for all family and friends who came over.”
Video Credit: YouTube/Gujju Ben Na Nasta
Gujarati Rituals Of Diwali-Bestu Varas
While these rituals and practices mentioned might seem just like ordinary Diwali celebrations to you, Chef Renu Dalal explains that Bestu Varas actually has “special significance for Gujarati businessmen and traders who start new books of account and close the old ones. Prayers are offered to Goddess Lakshmi, with the hope that the new year will be prosperous and profitable. The account books called Chopda are worshipped in the presence of both Goddess Lakshmi and Saraswati. There is one ritual known as Chopda Pujan, which is performed by many Gujuratis. During this ritual, account books are marked with auspicious writings of ‘Shubh’ and ‘Labh’, meaning ‘auspicious’ and ‘benefit’, respectively. A Swastika is drawn at the beginning of the book to make the forthcoming financial year profitable.”
Urmila Ben Asher agrees that this ritual is indeed performed across many Gujarati households who have a background in trading and business. “It is tradition in our place for women to fast on Diwali and do the Lakshmi-Ganesh Puja in the evening,” she explains. “Here we offer up our new Chopdas or account books for the new year for blessings and Laabh Pacham. On the day of Bestu Varas, the new account books are opened as the shops are also opened up anew for the new year. New Chopras for the new year!
For Chef Pranav Joshi, Bestu Varas celebrations were a bit different and all about making a very important pilgrimage every year. “My parents used to take me to a place called Ambaji for Diwali and Bestu Varas, dedicating their time to worshipping Goddess Ambe Maa,” he explains. “From Ambaji, we would then proceed to a vacation at places like Mount Abu and Udaipur.”
Video Credit: YouTube/Renu Dalal
Foods Of Diwali-Bestu Varas: Pure Gujarati Indulgences
Urmila Ben Asher says that Ghughra, Dhokla, Khandvi, Dahi Vada, Bhajiya, Chorafali, Fafda, Mathia are just some of the dishes she makes at home for Diwali and Bestu Varas celebrations. “We get so many guests during Diwali-Bestu Varas that offering these was quite the norm,” she explains. If you make it then of course you will taste it too, and I make all of these. Nowadays, people like new-age things like cold drinks, pastry and sweets like Kaju Katli and Khajur Pak. We still make Chorafali and Fafda for those who still like these.”
She adds that even today, making varieties of Ghughras is of great importance for her. “We make three types of Ghughra, which is a type of Karanji: one sweet, one savoury and one spicy. Rawa and mawa are mixed to make the sweet Ghughra, a Badam-Pista one is made that is predominantly salty, and the third spicy one is made with Vatana or green peas. People from Surat also make Ghari Mithai, but we are originally from Kutch, so we stick to these foods.”
Also Read: 4 Pillars of Gujarati Food Culture
In Chef Renu Dalal’s case, Bestu Varas indulgences were all about a combination of sweet and savoury dishes. “We had Shrikhand, Samosa, Puran Poli, Dhoklas, Khandvi, Dal Dhokli, Pedas, Suran for Bestu Varas,” she explains. “All the dishes were made at home and that’s a tradition we have continued even today, with some twists of course. Well to name a few, we now have Ice Cream Shrikhand, Thandai Shrikhand, Khandvi Salad, Samosa Curry, Gulab Jamun cheesecake, Rasmalai Tres Leches Cake, etc.”
Video Credit: YouTube/Chef Pranav Joshi
For Chef Pranav Joshi, what he loves most are the Mathias during Diwali-Bestu Varas. “There are a lot of varieties of Mathias,” he explains. “There is one with green chillies, another with ajwain and so many more. They are big, crispy, oily and an indulgence I always look forward to. The second thing I loved was Kaju Katli. During my childhood, we would visit different homes with dry fruits and we would eat Mukhwaas too. We have different assortments now for when people come home, ranging from sweets to dry fruits and lots of snacks like Mathias.”
Chef Pranav Joshi also adds that it has become quite the rage these days to put out snacks like Nachos. "I think those days are gone when ladies would cook huge amounts of food at home and most people end up getting stuff from local snack shops,” he says. “And nowadays there are so many options also. What we are cooking this time around for Diwali and Bestu Varas at home are Bajra Chips with a spicy chilli dip, Fullwadi, Kesar Boondi, Cappuccino Cookies along with Mathias. It is very important to note where you are buying from during this festive season, so I would suggest people check what they are eating, especially with fried snacks and sweets.”