Diwali, the festival of lights needs no introduction. It’s almost an international festival now. I think this is the only festival in India which is celebrated by most of the communities. Diwali is celebrated during October-mid November, around fifteen days after Durga Puja. To Bengalis, it’s Kali Puja (worshipping Goddess Kali) and dipaboli (Bengali for Diwali).
The word Diwali came from the Sanskrit word “Deepavali” which translates to ‘rows of lights’ (deep=lamp, avali=row). The entire country is illuminated on this particular festive day. There are several theories about the origin of Diwali. According to one theory, it’s the celebration of the return of Lord Rama from his fourteen years of exile. His return was celebrated in his capital Ayodhya by lighting deeps (earthen lamps) and bursting firecrackers. Another one says it’s the celebration of Goddess Lakshmi and Lord Vishnu’s marriage. In Bengal it’s the celebration of Kali, the Goddess of strength. Diwali is very significant among Jains (believer of Jainism) too; it’s the day when Lord Mahavir attained Nirvana. Whatever the history is, every Indian celebrates Diwali with equal joy and happiness. It’s another festival of the victory of Good over Evil. People exchange sweets and snacks and the sky lights up with fireworks.
Bengalis have a tradition of lighting choddo prodip (choddo=fourteen prodip=earthen lamps) on the day before Kali Puja to offer respect to fourteen generations of their forefathers. When I was a kid, we had a tradition of eating choddo shaak (a combined dish of fourteen leafy green vegetables) too. It was so much fun to collect the leafy greens. You could always buy them from the market, but that would spoil the whole fun. I was the one who will go to the neighbors and exchange the greens with the aunts. Sometimes we got them from their gardens and shared some from our garden as well. I don’t know if my mother still does it or not. On the day of deepaboli, we would light candles all over our house. It looked wonderful; the whole neighborhood was decorated with flickering lights all over. In the evening we took out our stash of fire crackers and it was so much fun to go through all of them. My Maa used to make ghugni (dry peas curry) and Baba used to buy sweets from the market. After I moved to the US, I no longer celebrate deepaboli as extensively as I used to, but I still light diyas on that day. I maintain the choddo prodip tradition because my mother-in-law wants me to (and I like it too).
I am sharing my Rasmalai/Rashomalai recipe with you all on this festive day. I hope you all are having a wonderful Diwali. May your lives light up with joy and happiness!
Milk: 5 cups
Evaporated milk: 1 cup
Sugar: 11/2 cups (more or less if you prefer)
A pinch of salt
Cardamom: 2-3 nos.
Bay leaf: 2 nos.
Pistachios: 10-12 nos.
How to do it:
- Soak the pistachios in water.
- Mix the milk with the evaporated milk and start boiling it on mdeium flame. Add the bay leaves and the cardamoms (slightly smashed). Be very careful, otherwise it might either stick to the bottom of the pan or spil over. You have to bring the volume to 2/3 of the original volume. You can totally omit the evaporated milk. I add it to save time. You can use regular whole milk and bring the volume down.
- Squeeze the rasgullas and drain the excess sugar syrup from them. Slightly flatten them.
- Add the rasgullas to the boiling milk and boil for 5 minutes (put it on medium flame).
- Add the sugar and the tiny pinch of salt. Boil for another 5 minutes. Check for sweetness and add more sugar if needed.
- Chop the pistachios to fine pieces and add them to the milk. Turn off the heat.
- Cool the milk and once it comes to room temperature, refrigerate it.
- Serve chilled.