Why We Celebrate Diwali: Legends From India

India is a place of many religions, cultures, and ultimately people. A very good consequence of that is an immeasurable amount of holidays. However, the only one consistently filled with memories is Diwali, commonly known in South India as Deepavali.

What we know about Diwali is that the festival of lights is celebrated over five days. The first day starts twenty days after Dussehra on the Hindu Lunisolar month of Karthika. The most common legend behind Diwali is that it is celebrated to honor the return of Lord Ram to Ayodhya, along with Lakshman and Sita from their exodus of defeating Ravana.

To welcome Lord Ram’s return, the people lit lamps all over their homes and the city was flooded with light in celebration of the victory. We now take electricity for granted, but in ancient times can you imagine what a sight it would have been to see an entire city flooded with light amidst a dark sky?
However, what we ​don’t know​ is that there are other myths providing alternate origins for why Diwali is celebrated. Be mindful of the fact that we are just accumulating hearsay, and we can in no way corroborate the stories explained below.

One of the most popular alternate theories is that Diwali celebrates Lord Krishna’s victory over Narakasura - the mythical Asura King. During this battle, Lord Krishna happened to defeat General Mura, which is where he got the title Murari, the enemy of Mura. Others add that Krishna freed 16,000 women who were enslaved by Narakasura, and to reinstate their honor, married all of them. After the battle, Krishna came home to his sister Subhadra who welcomed him with a ritual called aarthi. Some say that this is the origin of Bhai Dooj.

On the other hand, if you ask a Jain, they would tell you Diwali is the day Lord Mahavira attained Nirvana. Mahavira was the 24th and last Tirthankara, a spiritual teacher of Dharma. Another oft unspoken legend is that of King Mahabali. Many
people from Kerala celebrate Onam, the festival where King Mahabali returns from Pathalalok (A Hindu parallel to Purgatory) to visit his subjects.

The prequel to that tale, however, surprisingly coincides with Diwali. Diwali was also the day Lord Vishnu defeated King Bali. A terrifying but benevolent ruler, King Bali conquered all of Heaven, Earth, and Purgatory. The Devas, unhappy with his dominion, begged Vishnu to rescue them.

Lord Vishnu then took the form of a dwarven Brahmin called Vamana and visited the court of King Bali to ask him for three steps of land. Bali, known for his philanthropy, happily agreed. It was then that Vamana took his original form, and with two footsteps, covered everything in space.

With no space left to claim, Mahabali realized his mistakes and offered up his head for Vishnu to place his feet. Vamana placed the third step on his head, pushing him to Pathalalok. Since he was a benevolent leader, loved by everyone on Earth, Vishnu granted his wish of visiting his subjects once a year. The people in Kerala celebrate this day as Onam.

There are other less interesting accounts surrounding the origin of Diwali, but these stories should keep the kids entertained throughout the holidays! A running theme of Diwali is the classic triumph of good over evil, light winning over darkness is celebrated with lights lit up during the night.

We wish to insist that bursting crackers is not a traditional Diwali celebration and does a lot more harm than good to you, your loved ones, and your canine neighbors. Instead, spread the love by lighting diyas all over your house, sharing sweets, and going on a shopping spree. If you are traveling to visit your relatives, look up our previous post on ​how to travel safely during COVID​.​ And if you are visiting someone in Chennai, our doors are wide open!

One festival, many emotions: How Navaratri defines every culture in India

India is a land of diverse religions and subcultures, geographically torn between warring kingdoms in the old age which later came together after Independence. Traces of the original cultures can be found in the oddest of places, from various regional dialects for every language even within the same state to different methods of making Rotis. But even with these differences, India uniquely functions as one solely because we accommodate diversity.

Navaratri is one of the grandest festivals that unite all corners of our nation, but only in name. Digging a bit deeper, we find that the same festival is celebrated in several ways across the country. Below, you can find an account of the differences and eccentric similarities between them.

North India

A common theme across all north Indian states is that Navratri is celebrated to honor the Goddess Durga. Nava, meaning nine and Ratri meaning nights, are nine nights celebrating the nine forms, or avatars of Goddess Durga. The festival is celebrated with stage decorations, reciting legends, enacting stories, and chanting scriptures.

However, the grandest spectacle of Navratri is its Garba nights- thousands of men and women clad in chaniya choli and kurtas come together and dance synchronously to songs written specifically for the occasion. Although it is not part of the tradition, some people also opt to fast during this period.

Navaratri, in some regions, is also conducted in honor of Ramlila, the triumph of Lord Rama over Ravana. In Northeastern/East India, it is celebrated in honor of Goddess Durga vanquishing the demon named Mahishasura. Massive statues are erected in public spaces and worshipped over the nine-day period. After Dussehra, the last day, statues of the gods and goddesses are submerged in a nearby sea or
river while statues of the demons or asuras are burnt- signifying the destruction of evil.

South India

Down below, we have four states each celebrating it in unique ways. Tamil Nadu celebrates Navratri by organizing Kolu/Golu, a series of narrative display arrangements of dolls, typically conveying a story or legend from the epics. Kerala adds an emphasis on education and worships the Goddess Saraswati in the last three days. Books are placed in pooja rooms or the shrines of temples where they are worshipped for the three days. On the last day, children are initiated into education by a process called ‘Vidyarambham’ where they are made to draw runes or letters from shlokas on a platter of rice. The books are then ceremoniously taken out and read.

In Andhra Pradesh, it is celebrated as Batukamma Panduga, worshipping the Goddess Maha Gauri. Women and children come together on the first day to make a ‘Batukamma’, seasonal flowers stacked in a concentric arrangement. On the final day, the Batukamma is floated into nearby water bodies. The most memorable way of celebrating, however, is in Mysuru, a city in Karnataka. Here, they celebrate Dusshera by organizing a parade headed by the king's family. It is celebrated in the Mysore Palace with a procession of the idol of Goddess Chamundeshwari, accompanied by dance and music all night.

Once in a Lifetime Experiences

Since the same festival is celebrated in so many ways, we suggest you experience each type every year. In Vadodara, the cultural capital of Gujarat, a chance to participate in Garba will stay in your memories forever. Make sure to attend the celebration at the Mysore Palace at least once in your lifetime.

Another bucket list experience is attending the celebrations at the Kapaleeswarar temple, where all of Chennai gathers throughout the nine days and subsequently go temple hopping. If you are a more indoor type of person, and have relatives in Tamil Nadu, now would be a great time to visit and experience Hanu Reddy Residences’ hospitality.

The primary theme is still prevalent across all regions- the triumph of good over evil. While this might seem a little generic, it brings joy and gives everyone an excuse to celebrate. After all, isn't that what festivals are for?

14 underrated things to keep you occupied in a hotel

With the borders opening up, you are soon to find yourself in a hotel room inevitably. While you are making travel arrangements after months of staying indoors, accounting downtime is a sad necessity - especially if you are traveling for work.

The brunt of travel is the uneventful interlude between your arrival and your next outing or work event. Once you reach your room and unpack, you'd want to loosen your hamstrings. But what if there isn’t much to do out there?

Don't worry, we found a bunch of things you can keep yourself occupied while you get your R&R at Hanu Reddy Residences.

● Kick-off your morning with some yoga or simply enjoy a quiet cup of filter coffee on our terrace gardens.
● Have a quick work out session at our indoor gym so you won’t feel guilty about the scrumptious breakfast you’re going to have.
● If you’re here to unwind, take a moment to enjoy the greenery from our verandahs or take a walk around the property.
● Bored of Uno? Learn Pallankuzhi, a traditional board game from South India! Ask our staff for a Pallankuzhi set and have fun.
● Write a handwritten letter back home. Your friends and family will definitely love the surprise! (Ask our receptionist for postcard collectibles.)
● Read that book. You know, the one you’ve been carrying around all summer without finishing the first chapter.
● Look up smaller attractions to add to your itinerary along the way to your destination, such as the Semmozhi Poonga. (Chatting with our receptionist will give you some insider secrets.)
● Start a digital journal and document your trip. There’s so much you can do with your phone than binge-watching and endless scrolling!
● Learn something new. Take a look at courses from Udemy or Masterclass and see if you find something that piques your interest.
● Pick up a few tamil words to help you around the city and impress the locals at the same time.
● Catch up on podcasts. It might sound dreary, but give it a shot! It’s much more entertaining and informative than you would think!
● If you're traveling alone, make a Spotify playlist for your special someone so they know you’re missing them during the trip.
● On the off chance that you’re feeling productive, fire up your laptop and get some last-minute work done.
● Still got time on your hands? Check out our other posts here to learn more about South Indian heritage.

In all honesty, traveling during COVID-19 is not advisable. But several reasons could come up that might need you to travel to other cities or even countries. Here are a few things that will help you stay safe during your trip.

If and when you find yourself in Chennai, we want you to know that we are here to make you feel at home again.

Our doors are open!

Traveling during COVID-19: Here’s how

Feet itchy? Boots rusty? Suitcase empty?

We get it.

Even if it is a business or family trip rather than a vacation, it’s not completely safe out there yet. Here is a series of incremental don'ts to keep you safe.

The absolute essentials

When you are outside, consistently follow these three things:

● Clean your hands frequently using either a hand sanitizer with 60% or higher alcohol content or soap and water.
● Social distance protocol. Stay a minimum of 6 feet (2 meters) away from everyone.
● Always wear a mask when you are among others.

You might find yourself in situations that you do not have control over. Here is a series of preventive measures that could help you.

● Firstly, prefer to stay out of crowded spaces. If you do, ensure you wear a mask and are always 6 feet away from others.
● When you cough or sneeze, follow respiratory hygiene - sneeze into a tissue, or cover your mouth and nose with your bent elbow.
● You need to change your mask every 10 hours, carry enough spares for the entire trip.You don’t necessarily need medical masks - cloth masks will suffice, but ensure there are enough layers.
● Prefer contactless payment options at all junctures. Tap to pay Credit cards or online wallets are the way to go.
● Gloves aren’t necessary - they will become just as dirty as your hands later on. Use a hand sanitizer instead.

Preparing for your trip

Gone are the days where you book a ticket and wing the rest of the trip. A quick set of things to keep in mind before you plan your trip:
● Weigh the advantage versus the risk of each mode of transportation. While booking travel arrangements, pick odd hours when there is lesser foot traffic.
Make a COVID inventory list. Essentials like hand sanitizers and masks go in without question, but also accommodate space for your own water bottles and a set of disposable, biodegradable cutlery.
Be mindful of what you touch. We are forgetful beings and it is good to start practicing a couple of days before your trip.
Do your research. Keep up to date on the latest information at your destination so that you are always prepared.
● If you are feeling uneasy about traveling, get tested for COVID-19 before your journey, especially if it is an international trip.

Modes of transportation

Different modes of transportation come with various risk factors. Contrary to popular belief, air transport is currently the safest method, but don’t discount the fact that you still have to get to and from the airport, and travel inside the city at your destination.

Paranoia around travel in airplanes is quite misplaced. You are mainly at risk of getting infected while boarding. Prefer getting the boarding pass from the machine and use contactless payment whenever possible. On booking tickets, “Choose a window seat as far from the restroom as possible,” says Dr. Farley Cleghorn, the global health practice head at Palladium, an international impact consultancy firm. And do not forget to disinfect your hands after you sit down and before touching your face.

If you are traveling by bus or train, pack your own linen. Disinfect high contact areas such as the armrest or handle with disinfectant wipes. It’s okay if you get awkward glances from your passengers.

A car is ideal for travel but comes with its own set of risks like when you stop for gas or grab lunch. Ensure increased ventilation by rolling down your windows, or turn on the AC. Here too, wipe down high touch areas such as the handlebar with a disinfectant wipe.

Eating out safely

Besides transport, this is the second biggest concern. If you have the option, carry your own food. But the likelihood of that is low, so the next safest option is either drive-in or takeaway.

If you absolutely must eat out, then bring your own water and cutlery. Find a restaurant which offers these:
● Open space with enough distance between tables.
● Availability of a digital menu (or check their Zomato page).
● Staff who wear masks at all times.

Staying at another city

All the horror stories about poorly maintained motels come to mind when you think of accommodation hygiene. Call ahead and ensure that you will be hosted by employers who provide pandemic support (Employees get paid leaves, daily temperature checks, enough sanitation supplies, etc.) This guarantees as safe an environment as possible. And remember, even if you are visiting family, it’s safer to stay at a hotel just in case. While there, wash your hands and keys every time you enter your suite.

Finally, prefer an isolated residence over bustling 5-star hotels. The fewer people there are, the better. All rooms at Hanu Reddy Residences are individually air-conditioned with lots of common open areas for you to lounge around.

Bonus tips

● Travel insurance mostly would not cover COVID-19, but check with your agent anyway.
● If you have the option, choose a CFAR (Cancel for any reason) policy.
● When in a situation where a stranger is too close for comfort, move away. If you can’t, politely ask them to give you some space. You are in a new city for a good time, don’t ruin your evening over it.
● It’s best to have a contingency plan. In case you get sick, make sure you have a plan in place to keep you and your loved ones safe.

We have tried to be as inclusive and exhaustive with our travel tips because we understand your need to spread your wings.

Travel safe, have fun, and hope to see you soon!

Saree shopping during the Margazhi season

Besides Kalyani, Kamboji, and canteen saapadu, it is the pattu(silk) saree that is the hallmark of Margazhi season in Chennai. From the musicians themselves to their fans, everyone indulges in a bit of saree shopping to look the season’s best; sometimes, giving way to unique ensembles and signature styles that blaze new trends.

From traditional silk sarees with time tested motifs of mangoes, chariots, and peacocks, threaded together in elaborate zari work, to comfortable Mangalagiri cottons bearing block prints, and patchwork, there is something for every saree lover. Some add a touch of contemporary aesthetic to their traditional sarees by pairing them with edgy blouses, and terracotta jewellery.

If you fancy yourself some Margazhi flavoured saree shopping in Chennai, here are the city’s shopping hotspots.

For the contemporary look

Palam Silks brings out a concert collection of bright coloured sarees with patterns of musical instruments, and paraphernalia. This year it has a unique silverline collection which takes silver zari by itself, for the first time, to pattu saree. From traditional Kanjivaram to fashionable silks, Palam Silks has a lot to offer for youngsters looking to make a fashion statement.

Aavaranaa, located in Abiramapuram, also comes with a special range of Margazhi sarees in retro styles. The boutique brand, specializes in Kanjivaram, Tussar, Benaras, and a host of other silks, with kalamkari and block-print designs.

Margazhi Designs, a 5 year old brand that is creating ripples internationally, produces traditional weaves with fresh patchwork, and a sprinkling of ikat and floral prints for variety. Cotton sarees ranging from Khadhi to Managalgiri are crowd favourites.

For the traditional attire

Kumaran, Nalli, and Sundari Silks are the city’s oldest and finest when it comes to traditional sarees. You can never go wrong when you shop your Kanjivaram silk from these iconic stores.

The ultra luxe in silk

Kanakavalli Kingsley boasts an exquisite range of handcrafted sarees that are one of a kind. Housed in a colonial style bungalow, it provides a rich shopping experience, while spelling heritage and class in every product. If you don’t mind shelling out big bucks for the best Kanjivaram, this is for you.

Amethyst Boutique houses chic, contemporary sarees by local and international designers, with a blouse studio where you can custom design your blouses. Although it is heavier on the purse, it is worth every rupee.

Sarangi in Mylapore also offers a curated collection of scintillating silks.

The South Indian saree is an intrinsic part of the Margazhi festival. Come December, it is the chosen garb of the city. Don your best when you head out for the kutcheris this season!

Temple Hopping this December

India’s temples are a celebration of many gods, their stories, devotees, and patrons. Come December, temples come alive every morning with recitations of Thirupaavai and Thiruvempaavai - songs devoted to Lord Vishnu, and Shiva respectively.

If the beauty of Bhakthi poetry isn’t incentive enough, there is a delicious serving of hot vennpongal (rice porridge) frothing with ghee (clarified butter) to comfort you, for having stepped out of the bed in the cold Margazhi (a month in the Tamil calendar) morning. In the evenings, little shops flanking the temple complexes sell flowers, fruits, toys, buttermilk, ice cream, and trinkets of all kinds. Temple life is no less than a riot of colours, a burst of activity - economic, spiritual, social, and sensual.

Here are some of Chennai’s decorated temples that you must visit this December, with a sprinkling of the many legends that go around them.

Kapaleeshwarar Temple

Situated in Mylapore, this temple has given rise to many legends. One goes that Goddess Parvathi worshipped Lord Shiva in the form of a peacock here. Hence, the name Mylapore/Mayilar-parikum-oor which translates to ‘land of the peacock scream’. With shrines dedicated to each of the 63 Nayanmars (the Saiva bhakthi poets) the Kapaleeshwarar temple celebrates the poets and mystics who bridged this world with the other realm.

Like everything about the country, this temple too is a confluence of many streams of faith. For example, on the occasion of Muharram, Muslims of the neighbourhood visit the temple tank to perform rituals.

Marundheeshwarar Temple

Lord Shiva is worshipped as the healer of all ailments in this temple located in Thiruvanmiyur. Marundheeswarar (an incarnation of Lord Shiva) is said to have bestowed sage Agasthya with the knowledge of medicine and healing.

It is also believed that sage Valmiki who created Ramayana, one of the great epics of the country, was graced by the presence of the Lord at this site. Thiru-valmiki-yur, named after the legend Thiru Valmiki, has since morphed into what is presently Thiruvanmiyur.

Parthasarathy Temple

This 8th century Vaishnavite temple in Thiruvallikeni, or Triplicane as it is known today, is dedicated to Lord Vishnu and his many avatars. It is one of 108 holy shrines mentioned in the canonical Vaishnavite literature, Divya Prabhandham. The presiding deity is 9 feet tall. And, this is the only temple where Vishnu appears wearing a moustache, like a charioteer, as was his role in the Kurukshetra war where he guided and protected the Pandava King Arjuna.

Vaikunda Ekadasi, the festival which marks the opening of the heavens for mortals, is celebrated with pomp in the Margazhi season, with nearly a 1000 devotees gathering for prayers in this venerated temple.

Ashta Lakshmi Temple

Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth, graces devotees who visit this temple in all her eight visages, bestowing them with abundance. Adi Lakshmi grants health; Dhanya Lakshmi eliminates hunger; Dhairya Lakshmi gives courage; Gaja Lakshmi opens up all avenues of prosperity; Santhana Lakshmi gifts prodigy; Vidhya Lakshmi blesses one with wisdom; Vijaya Lakshmi leads one to victory; and Dhana Lakshmi showers wealth.

Situated in the charming vistas of Besant Nagar, along the seashore, the temple resembles the Brihadeeswarar Temple in Thanjavur (also called Periya Kovil for its sheer size; periya meaning ‘big’) in its design. The presiding Goddess, draped in a beautiful 9 yards saree, is a sight to behold.

Vadapalani Murugan Temple

This is one of the most popular temples in the city, witnessing about 7000 marriages every year. The stucco images on the Gopuram (tower) at the entrance depict stories from the Skandapurana - a Saiva religious text named after Skanda, or Lord Muruga, the son of Shiva. The eastern tower, which is more than 40 metres high, bears 108 gestures of the classical dance form Bharata Natyam. The temple is adorned with a traditional tank, a feature that is typical of most Indian temples.