Happy Diwali – Deepāvali Vartukal from Tiruvannamalai and Arunachala


This year we celebrated Diwali more fully than ever before. I see this time (at least in South India) like a combination of Christmas (with its gifts, special foods and family meals) and the US Fourth of July with all the fireworks. It is one of the MAJOR celebrations.

Diwali is called ‘the festival of lights’. In a spiritual sense it is the light of consciousness illuminating ignorance.

Diwali, or Deepavali as is it called in South India and Tamil Nadu, is celebrated differently in North and South India. Diwali is not just a Hindu festival, but is also marked by the Jains and Sikhs as well as the  Buddhist in Nepal. In North India it is a five day holiday, in Tiruvannamalai it is usually celebrated over two days, the day before the new moon, and the new moon day. It is at the time of the fall (October) new moon, and in some places is a harvest festival in addition to the other attributes.

There is a great article on Wikipedia. Click here to go to it.

In Tamil Nadu, the first night is kind of like Deepavali eve, on the day before the new moon. It starts with a special breakfast, and at sundown with ‘crackers’ (firecrackers in the US) and other fireworks.   Deepāvali vartukal is what you say in Tamil to wish holiday greetings. Our rickshaw driver, Rajan, includes us within his family during these celebrations. During the second day, there are crackers exploding all day everywhere you go, and a special midday meal. Before dawn and after sundown, there are  rockets and stars being set off in every direction you look.  It is primarily a family holiday, not seen as  focused on gods and temples. This makes it pretty different than most other festivities during the year. It is one of the two times where gifts are commonly given. The other time is Pongal, in January.

This post shows some of the Deepavali celebration that was  done this year with Rajan’s family. This is Deepavali as we saw it this year.

Getting Ready – Buying Crackers

Last year we had some fireworks: crackers, fountains, sparklers and stars. I have never done much of a fireworks show and this year I wanted to get more, especially stars (called by some mortars). Rajan, his friend Valen, and I went down town. There was one place where Rajan wanted to go, one that had the most reliable fireworks. It is on the street that runs downhill to the vegetable market. This street is used by the chariots during Deepam. 

This was done two days before the festivities were to be held.


There is a sewer project going on in town.


Many roads are torn up. Since in a few weeks this road must be used by the chariots, the local government administrator, the Collector, has ordered that this work be done by the end of October, so that the roads can be repaved in November and Tiruvannamalai be properly ready for Deepam.

This trench stopped traffic today. Bikes were carried over it, otherwise just foot traffic could pass.


Here is the fireworks stand.


Boxes of fireworks are piled high.


Many are gift boxes and collections.


Some are the stars that I want. These ‘Blackberries’ are in a tube about 2 feet high and four inches wide. They shoot out multiple stars, with a resounding boom! when set off.


More boxes of fireworks.


There were several people behind the counter. We were big buyers today and got great attention from them. They showed  us basically everything they have.


I am talking to Rajan about plans and fireworks. I have been thinking about this for some time now. I want to have a good show with lots of stars, and a big finale.


Many of the boxes feature pretty girls. I guess this means that mainly it is men who buy them.


Rajan and I are examining one of the boxes of stars.


As we shopped, a sadhu that we know stopped by. He is Swami Annamalai. He is just starting on Arunachala Girivalam, walking around the mountain on this special day. He wears more rudraksha beads than any one else that I know.


Here is a photo of the two of us together.


Altogether I spent about Rs 5500 on fireworks, a bit more than $100. Here we are with all our booty. We got a few extras that we will use for Deepam, when stars are also set off. Though this is usual, the fireworks stands are not set up for Deepam, so you need to get them now.



The new moon eve day dawns clear. There is, in the center of the photo, a sliver of a moon. It was this moon that taught me about this holiday being one during the new moon. It will be new moon tomorrow.

Planning the fireworks show

After the sunrise I started looking through what we had bought, planning out the show.


Here they are laid out in the sequence I want to fire them off. Besides all the boxes of stars and rockets, there are two square boxes and one hexagonal one. These contain fireworks that shoot off a series of items. One has 12, the other two have 25. These shoot off one after another until exhausted. Maybe these will be a nice part of the show. 


The special breakfast

A 9 Am we went to Rajan’s house for the special breakfast on new moon eve. Rajan, following local tradition had his usual bath before dawn (which is said to give the same spiritual merit as bathing in the Ganges), and an oil bath. Next on this day is the breakfast.

Rajan’s house has a beautiful kolam (rice flour design) on his doorstep.


Carol enters  the house in her new saree. We all are supposed to wear new clothes today.


Rajan’s wife, Janakee, is busy cooking.


Here are their two children in new  clothes. The girl, Jananee, is 9 and the boy, Raam, is 8. They both go to English middle school, where the focus in on learning English as well as the usual subjects. Rajan is very frim that they will learn English. Jananee is in the fourth standard. Here ALL the instruction is in English, so when she is learning  math, she is also learning English at the same time.


One of our western friends, Sarasvati, was invited to breakfast as well. Here she is with Raam.


Before the meal is a puja. Rajan’s house is three rooms. One of the three rooms is a puja room.


the camphor flame is offered to each of us, so we can bless ourselves with it.


the altar fills one wall of the puja room.


Now Janakee is getting the banana leave plates for the meal. She sets  one out in front of each of us. Everyone eats except her. She will eat when all the visitors leave (so visitors do not stay an talk for a long time after the meal, as would be usual in the US).


The kids sit by one wall in the front room.


Carol, Sarasvati and I sit by another wall.


The men, Valen and Rajan sit on the other wall.


Janakee serves us all. Today the menu is first a sweet. After all, this festival is about sweets, special food, gifts and fireworks.

The night before we were invited to Rajan’s house to eat special  sweets – some small cake smothered in a flavored sugar sauce. Very sweet. Very good.

The menu for breakfast was a very special sambar made with mutton (goat meat), iddlies, vadas, and  dosas (which were cooked one at a time during the meal). 


After the meal, we collected some of the bones to take  home.


Here is a photo from Rajan’s doorway. My scooter and Rajan’s rickshaw are parked outside.


We gave the bones to our puppies, so they would have a special treat for Deepavali, too.


Yum! says Inky.


The Fireworks Show

After dark we gather again at Rajan’s house. Before this he and Raam came by my house to pick up the fireworks. Raam reminded me of a kid on Christmas morning when he saw all the fireworks. He was holding one of the big Blackberry tubes with a big grin on his face. This was more than he ever expected.

Other neighbors have heard about the fireworks display we plan to have, so many people are gathered here tonight.


I set the fireworks out in a line, like I did on my floor, and pass the out the the guys to set them off. Rajan is helped by Valan and one other rickshaw driver friend.


We start the show!


We set off about 20 rockets (at different times during the show).


Rajan would line up the tubes and set them off. Some are small, some are big. All are fun.


This boy watches a star go up into the sky.




People watch from the sidelines. They are only about 20 feet from where they are being set off in the street. This is really too close to get a good view  of the stars, which go off high above us.


Rajan is getting ready to light more.


We have fountains as part of the show. 



The crowd watches more stars shooting up into the sky. 


And exploding, filling the night sky with light. 


Janakee sits, watching. 


More fireworks display. 


The crowd is rapt. 


After a while we have  some small items, mainly flares and fountains, for the kids to set off. Everybody sets a chance to set something off.




Down the road another household has a small display. I feel bad that we have so much stuff, and they have so few  items. 


Meanwhile, boom and flash, one after another we set off item after item, lighting the night sky. 



Then, suddenly, it is over. There is nothing more to set off.

I took this photo of some of the boys before we left for the night.  


New Moon Day

the  next morning I got up about 4 am as usual. Cracker started exploding about 4:30 in the morning. We heard them all through the day, everywhere we went today. During the evening  we saw more displays, with stars exploding around our house.

We took our usual morning walk around the hill. Even from Arunachala, one could hear many crackers exploding.

As we walked through the village near Pachiaimman Koil, there were wonderful kolams to greet us.


Here are a young boy and girl we know, all dressed up the the Deepavali new clothes.


Another beautiful kolam. The village houses here are small. This does not mean that the people have no pride in themselves. This is shown the by quality of the kolams.


Lining the street are piles of shredded paper, what is left from all the crackers that have been set off.


When we got to Hotel Ramakrishna for breakfast, it was closed for the holiday. We had never seen it closed before, so this showed us just how special the day really is.

Later we joined Rajan and his family again for another special meal. This day’s midday meal was strictly vegetarian, with a number of special holiday foods. Again it was all so good. Since it is a family meal, before we can eat a plate of food is taken to the roof to feed the crows. It is felt that the crows are their ancestors, so feeding the crow is like feeding your dead father. When Rajan and Raam take it up,  Rajan calls out to the crows, Kaa, Kaa. They then come and feed.

We feel blessed that Rajan includes us in the family events. This  gives us a chance to see a part of life in India that many other westerners really have no idea of. You also have to understand that when I say, family events, just how important family is in Tamil Nadu (and India). So participating in a family event is being at the center of the Indian heart.  Few things  here are so important.

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7 Responses to “Happy Diwali – Deepāvali Vartukal from Tiruvannamalai and Arunachala”

  1. Tiruvannamalai Festivals 2012–2013 Season | Ramana Maharshi Tours Says:

    […] Nov 2012 – Deepavali (Diwali) 18 Nov 2012 – Deepam […]

  2. Tiruvannamalai Festivals 2012–2013 Season « Tiruvannamalai Travel Says:

    […] Nov 2012 – Deepavali (Diwali) 19 Nov 2012 – Deepam […]

  3. gufisufi Says:


  4. sriraml Says:

    Also Janakee seems quite trained in traditional procedures. It is customary to use banana leaves for food. But the banana leaves must not be cut in the middle (i.e the narrower part of the leaf should be uncut). Such leaves are called ‘noonee elai’ in Tamil. In general for men and guests, it is customary to use noonee elai to honor them. As a child I would protest when my mom used noonee elais for the elders/guests and not for me.
    From the picture, it looks like she has used Noonee elai for the guests as a mark of respect.

    Also, the kids look quite excited in all the pictures..

  5. sriraml Says:

    Wonderful ! Some of the pictures are just awesome: the dimly lit Arunachala, the kid looking out into the sky in awe, the kolams and the two kids posing with their deepavali dresses on.

    I am reminded of my school days (around 10-15 years ago), when I used to spend almost the entire day bursting crackers.

    As you rightly mentioned, inviting you to participate in a family event is not usual. It just shows how you have mingled with the people there and how they have reciprocated.

    Overall, a very nice post..

  6. prasanthjvrs Says:

    Nice photos Richard.

    You enjoyed diwali a lot.

  7. drpvssnraju Says:

    You enjoyed deepavali well.

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