Taj India has hosted an annual celebration of the Indian festival of lights since 1994. The restaurant’s 15th annual festival is scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, Oct. 19 and 20, from 5-10 p.m. For a set price of $16.95, the restaurant will offer a dinner buffet that consists of snacks and rice dishes; five vegetarian entrées; meat dishes including lamb, chicken and fish; and four desserts, all of which are available only during the annual celebration. The price also includes a complimentary glass of wine.
At press time, restaurateur and chef Pinder Gill was testing three lamb recipes and three seafood recipes, trying to make his final decision on which dishes would make the cut. All of the following items, he assured me, would be on the final menu:
Palak Pyaz Pakora – spinach and onion pakora fritters
Kumbi Potli – fine-chopped broccoli and baby mushroom fritters
Sabz Pillav - Basmati rice cooked with fresh vegetables
Kaju Khoppa Pillav - basmati rice with coconut and cashews
Kurkari Bhidi - crispy okra tossed in spices
Masalewale Bengan — baby eggplant cooked in a spiced and herb-rich masala
Safed Daal - white lentils in an aromatic flavoring
Guncha O Bahar - cabbage dumplings in tangy sauce
Khurmani Murgi - chicken cooked with apricots and cashews
Rassogulla - soft cheese balls wrapped in coconut
Jalebi - sweet pretzels
Gujiyas - crispy, crunchy sweet delight
Ladoo - sweet yellow lentil balls
While the traditions of Deepawali have their origins in the Hinduism, it is considered a Pan-Indian holiday. In other words, Indians from several faiths, including Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Muslims, Buddhists and even Christians, take part in the celebration. According to Madhu Shah, a member of the board of trustees for the Hindu Temple and Cultural Center in Pelham, Deepawali is one of the most significant holidays in Indian culture.
“Deepawali is a celebration of light,” Shah says. “It is for everyone to celebrate. It is our Christmas and our New Year’s, too, and we invite everyone to celebrate it with us.”
Also called Diwali, Deepawali lasts five days as it is celebrated in India. Homes are thoroughly cleaned in preparation, and in Hindu households, the windows are opened to welcome Laksmi, the goddess of wealth. Candles and lamps, called “deep” and considered a symbol of knowledge, are lit to welcome the goddess. In fact, thousands of lamps, candles and lights are lit during Deepawali, literally shedding new light on people’s homes and everyday surroundings.
In many rural parts of India, Deepawali doubles as a harvest festival, since it occurs at the end of the harvest season. As harvest typically means prosperity, the celebratory tradition was begun by Indian farmers after they reaped their harvest. They celebrated with joy and offered praises to the gods for granting them a good crop. In modern times, friends and families exchange gifts during Deepawali and families enjoy elaborate meals together.
“This is a holiday that has a very good significance behind it, whatever religion you are,” says Dr. Jeet Bagga, a member of Birmingham’s Indian Cultural Association. “The point is the destruction of evil, the casting out of evil by lighting up everything.”
The Deepawali celebration at Taj India is scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, Oct. 19-20, from 5-10 p.m. Dinner costs $16.95, which includes a complimentary glass of wine. Regular menu items will only be available for take-out during the festival. Call (205) 939-3805 to make reservations.