Diwali 2023: Why is Jimikand Central To the Festival?

Diwali, the festival of lights, is celebrated with great fervour and enthusiasm in various regions of India. This celebration is not just about illuminating homes and exchanging gifts but also about relishing a delightful array of foods, sweets, and savouries. Diwali is a special time of year when different regions across the country come alive with their unique culinary customs. This presents a rich and varied collection of delicious dishes that are enjoyed during the festive season. In the northern regions of India, particularly in Varanasi or Banaras, Diwali holds a special place in the hearts of the people. Among the myriad of dishes prepared for this festival, there is one that stands out as a staple in many households – Jimikand, also known by names like sooran, suran, oal, or ol. 

Jimikand, Elephant Foot or Yam, may not be the most visually appealing vegetable, but its taste is nothing short of extraordinary. Its popularity during Diwali is deeply rooted in religious beliefs and cultural significance, making it a must-have during this auspicious time. Why is Jimikand considered such an important part of Diwali celebrations? In order to gain a deeper understanding, we talked to Himanshu Dutt, a Brahman from Banaras, to understand the cultural and spiritual elements that encompass this one-of-a-kind vegetable. 

He explains that the festival marks the darkest night of the year, signifying the transition from hot to cold weather. Jimikand, also known as suran, is believed to remove darkness from one's path and prepare the body for the changing seasons. Since Diwali marks the commencement of eating this root vegetable, it is associated with good fortune. Some even believe that Jimikand is a favourite of Goddess Laxmi, the deity of wealth and prosperity, and its consumption is believed to attract financial blessings. 

The symbolism of Jimikand's growth cycle is another reason for its significance during Diwali. This vegetable regrows from the earth after being harvested, signifying the revival of lost wealth and abundance. These beliefs have led to its specific preparation and consumption in northern India during the festival. 

In addition to being culturally significant, Jimikand has various health benefits. One of these benefits is its ability to provide a warming effect on the body. In Jaipur, there is a temple that highlights the sanctity of this simple vegetable, as it grows beneath the earth without causing harm to any living creatures. This makes it appropriate for presenting to Lord Vinodi Lalji, who is believed to be an embodiment of Lord Krishna. 

During a conversation with Samrat Banerjee, Vice President of the Durgostab Committee and co-partner of Cho, a Vietnamese restaurant in New Delhi, he elaborated on the concept of bhog. He emphasized that bhog (food offered to God) is tailored to the local and seasonal produce of each region. Diwali bhog, in particular, highlights warm ingredients, sesame seeds, dry fruits, and ghee, with opulence being a key element symbolizing the festival. Malpua, halwa, and dry sweets made with dry fruits take centre stage during this time. Additionally, Diwali coincides with the sugarcane harvest, making sweets prepared with sugar a fundamental component, as sugar is also associated with wealth and prosperity.