Little Rituals Part II : Deepavali - Deepavali's Dawn
In the hours before dawn, while it is still dark outside, the household slowly comes to life. Sleepy-eyed children wake to the sound of rain, their excitement palpable as they emerge into the bustle of the house. There is much to do, and the home fills with the familiar sights and sounds of a festive morning. The lovely little traditions that make Deepavali what it is, continue to unfold and our protagonists are busy once more.
The day of the festival begins with the nalangu ceremony. A little sunnambu (slaked lime) is added to freshly ground turmeric root, forming a bright red paste.
Members of the family take turns to sit on the manai palagai while elders apply the nalangu paste to their feet. Women sing traditional songs, accompanied by the sound of gentle rainfall outside. With its antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties, nalangu protects the family who will spend most of the day celebrating barefoot. The ceremony is filled with sweet moments of affection and laughter, as different generations of the family are brought together by an ancient tradition.
The oil prepared the evening before is gently warmed before the grandmother sprinkles a few drops on the heads of the youngsters in the ennai sastra ritual. The oil is then massaged into the scalp. Nalennai (gingelly oil) is believed to draw heat out of the body, promoting health and wellness.
Deepavali is a celebration of new beginnings, and the entire family looks forward to wearing their pudhu aadaigal or new clothes, a source of much delight. Before they are worn, though, the beautiful new saris, pattu pavadais and veshtis, are all marked with turmeric—a dot in each corner—and placed before the Gods for their blessings. The family gathers in prayer, as the youngsters can’t wait to dress up in their new silks.
The ritual oil bath at dawn on Deepavali is called Ganga snanam, symbolising the cleansing of the spirit in the sacred river. A few drops of Ganga jal from the puja room are added to the water. A massage with the oil infused the previous night, is followed by a warm bath using kadalai maavu (gram flour) which absorbs oil and deep cleans, while nourishing the skin. Ganga snanam has become a custom deeply entwined with the festival of light.
After bathing, the women gather in the bedroom to dry their hair. A bamboo koodai (basket) is placed over the sambhrani to filter the fumes as they draw out the moisture and leave the hair warm and fragrant. Inhaling sambhrani also prevents colds, showing us how many traditions seamlessly combine beauty and health.
With the ritual oil bath complete, the household is ready to dress in their Deepavali finery and continue celebrating the festival of light.
In these visuals captured before dawn, we feature a selection of classic kanchi cotton saris from Kanakavalli’s Cotton Collective, paired with unusual and lovely handloom fabric lengths from The Blouse Studio. Browse these and more in our Deepavali edition of Perfectly Paired.
In the third and final part of this series, Kanakavalli follows along as the final rituals take place and the family comes together in celebration for the big day ahead!