Diwali – Legends, light and laddoos

Candles lit over Raffles crayon Rangoli

A culturally curious Raffles has put in a request to celebrate Deepavali this year, no small task given we aren’t Hindu; it’s crossing cultural paths with Halloween and Dia de los Muertos and; more to the point, that I have NO freaking idea how. But in the spirit of my son’s cultural and religious edification I am going to give it a good go… once I find out what it is.

It’s always fun to do a little research with Raffles so he and I visit Uncle Google to find out what makes the “Festival of Lights” tick. He is thrilled to discover that it not only involves much eating, fireworks, colour and candles but that the celebration has many wonderful legends behind it, his favourite being the Ramayana. Sit back with a cup of chai and we’ll share the abridged version.

Once upon a time Prince Rama, the son of a great King, along with his wife, Sita, was banished to live in a forest because of a plot by Rama’s stepmother who, it must be said, was a bit of a biatch and wanted her own son, Bharata, Rama’s younger brother, to be king.

While in their forest exile Sita, who was a pretty good sort, was kidnapped by an infatuated Ravana… who was not. In fact, being a demon king with ten heads and far too many arms than was good for anyone not a member of the octopodidae genus, you could say Ravana was butt ugly. But I digress.

The wicked Ravana swooped down in a chariot pulled by flying monsters and kidnapped the princess. But Sita, being as cluey as she was hot (and who clearly had shares in an early incarnation of Cartier), left a trail of sparkling jewellery for Rama to follow.

Rama was none too dim so he followed Sita’s jewellery trail and, as one does, befriended a flying monkey king called Hanuman. Now Hanuman was good and kind and super cool, in a banana coveting, hairy kind of way, and together they set off to find Sita who had been imprisoned on an island. When they couldn’t reach the island, all the monkeys in the entire world ever, summoned by Hanuman, came to help build a bridge.

After a fierce battle Rama killed Ravana with a magic arrow and, reunited with his jewellery tossing wifey, headed back home guided by the welcoming little oil lamps on people’s windows.

The end.

Today Diwali is celebrated across the world as the “Festival of Light,” with lamps and fireworks lit to signify the victory of truth and goodness over evil and to ward off any traces of darkness and ignorance. We don’t have any of the traditional clay oil lamps that would be traditionally used but Raffles and I figure a couple of tea lights should just about do the trick. And in place of an explosion of fireworks we’ll light a sparkler or two (or “sprinklers” as Raffles is convinced they’re called).

flaming loon

It is also tradition during Diwali to perform a “Lakshmi pooja” to seek divine blessings from Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth. Uncle Google suggests that we should decorate the entrance of our home with colourful traditional motifs and Rangoli designs to welcome the lovely Lakshmi but this may prove problematic as our front door is currently sporting a fetching Halloween poster with “keep out” scrawled on it in faux-blood. Bugger. It is also written that we should leave our windows open to invite a little of Lakshmi’s luck but, as we live in inner city Sydney, this would also invite thieves so we might give this one a miss too.

Another tradition at this time is to clean house, which is a happy coincidence given we’ve just shipped a truckload of crap out of our place after a spot of spring cleaning… so Lakshmi might just give us a look-in after all.

There’s also a tendency for a bit of cow worshiping by farmers at this juncture but, in the absence of any live cows in our inner city suburb, we might just avoid steak for the week. I think the cows will be happy with that.

In spite of our gory front door, Raffles is still keen on creating some decorative Rangoli. Though these are usually made with coloured rice, flour or sand, in the interest of our newly clean house we’re nixing these for a less messy medium… crayon. I sketch some out and he colours away until – in a moment of largesse – my baby chooses his prettiest Rangoli and carefully packs it in his school bag as a gift for the Hindu raised mum of one of his school friends.

What did I do to deserve this delicious kid?

The last day of the holiday is a special day called Bhai Dooj where brothers and sisters renew sibling love. Sisters apply an auspicious red tilak on the forehead of their brothers, while brothers provide gifts of love to their sisters for cooking and looking after them. Or, in the case of Sugarpuff, for chucking tantrums, whining, snatching and smashing her brothers Lego. Same, same.

Raffles, who adores his little sister (in spite of the Lego fallout) thinks this is a lovely idea though, given equality rules in our house, we’ll be nixing the female servitude ideology and the kids will make each other gifts.

brotherly love

Raffles colours a picture for his sister and Sugarpuff helps me make a platter of Laddoo (recipe below) for her brother. And by help I actually mean gets under my feet and licks the bowl clean.

Coconut and pistachio Laddoo

But for us, it is a kind invitation from the aforementioned school mum for us to join her and her beautiful family at the Sri Venkateswara Temple in Helensburgh that makes Diwali truly special. The magnificent temple is one of the most famous Hindu temples in the southern hemisphere, built according to Vedic principles.

Sri Venkateswara temple in Helensburgh

The temple is abundant with iconography, with most of the major Hindu deities getting a look in.

Some of Sri Venkateswara's deities

Personally, I’m a Shiva and Lakshmi kind of gal and they are well represented at Sri Venkateswara. Raffles though is desperate to track down his monkey king pal, Hanuman – who he sees as some kind of Hindu superhero – dancing about gleefully when he does.

After washing our feet, we head barefoot into the temple’s inner chamber where we’re intrigued by the Poojas (rituals performed by Hindus as an offering to their deities) that are being performed. Raffles, following the cues of his little friend, rings a bell to attract pleasant Devatas (deities) and scare off some of the nastier ones and is chuffed to bits when he receives his first tilak on his forehead.

Raffles gets a tilak at the Sri Venkateswara Temple, Helensburgh

And then we eat! The SVT canteen offers some of the cheapest, and best, vegetarian Indian treats we’ve eaten this side of Singapore.

Then its back home for a few more sparklers and to finish off the leftover laddoos while Raffles begs for a repeat visit to the temple next weekend.

Happy Diwali!


Coconut Pistachio Laddoo

coconut laddoo


1 tsp ghee
2 cups grated coconut
1/2 cup dried powdered coconut
1 tsp cardamom powder
150 ml sweetened condensed milk
Pistachio kernels


  1. Melt ghee in a fry pan on medium heat.
  2. Add grated coconut and fry for about a minute.
  3. Lower heat and add sweetened condensed milk.
  4. Cook mixture over low heat stirring continuously for around five minutes to cook the coconut.
  5. Add cardamom powder and continue stirring until the mixture leaves the sides of the pan then remove from heat and leave to cool for about ten minutes.
  6. Once cooled enough to touch roll tablespoons of mixture into balls.
  7. Press a whole pistachio nut into the ball and roll in desiccated coconut then set aside to serve.

13 Comments on Diwali – Legends, light and laddoos

  1. Emily @ Have A Laugh On Me
    November 4, 2013 at 10:17 am (11 years ago)

    He sure is going to make you think and work over the next few years as he gets more curious! My house definitely needs a clean 🙁 Loving pics and thanks for mini history lesson xx

      November 8, 2013 at 9:13 pm (11 years ago)

      He’s going to kill me Em, he’s already asking about turkey and Thanksgiving… it’s a wonder he didn’t want me to roast him up a horse for Melbourne cup! 😉

      • Have a laugh on me
        November 8, 2013 at 10:30 pm (11 years ago)

        LMAO – now that I would pay to see 😉

  2. becc03
    November 4, 2013 at 1:10 pm (11 years ago)

    I loved your take on the story, had me in stitches and I learned something too!

      November 8, 2013 at 9:04 pm (11 years ago)

      Thanks Becc the whole Diwali experience was fun to write about, glad you enjoyed it 🙂

  3. Raquel (@OrganizedIsland)
    November 4, 2013 at 1:33 pm (11 years ago)

    Hi! Nice blog – found you on Let’s Get Social Sunday – Following on Instagram!

      November 4, 2013 at 1:35 pm (11 years ago)

      Thanks Raquel will return the like!

  4. Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella
    November 4, 2013 at 2:29 pm (11 years ago)

    Bahahaa!!! You really must rewrite all of these legendary tales. I loved your tale of the banana coveter and the jewellery throwing princess 😛

      November 8, 2013 at 9:05 pm (11 years ago)

      I’ve been reading some more and they could do with a bit of a modern-day ‘tweak’ 😉

  5. devoured
    November 5, 2013 at 9:00 am (11 years ago)

    So great your kids are immersed in other cultures’ festivals! The temple sounds great, I will definitely have to visit. As a masala dosai lover you’ve sold me on the canteen!

      November 8, 2013 at 9:14 pm (11 years ago)

      The temple is so amazing. We’re heading back next weekend just to sit and take it all in (and for the dosa). 🙂

  6. Shelley @Travel-Stained
    November 5, 2013 at 2:07 pm (11 years ago)

    Oooh, your pics made me miss India…especially the masala dosa and the poori…love those! 🙂

      November 8, 2013 at 9:06 pm (11 years ago)

      I know. How good are they? My faves 🙂


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Hey, I’m Aleney! A mum, award-winning travel writer, magazine editor and gallivanting glutton. He’s Raff, the “boy” in boyeatsworld, and a fearless foodie, adventurer and eco-warrior. Along with his all-singing, all-dancing, all-adventurous sister, Sugarpuff, we’re exploring the world’s colour, culture and cuisine on a food safari for the junior set.

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