Tradition of making Kajal on Diwali

Celebrating Diwali is not just about a religious significance, but a spiritual belief, a sense of celebration and of continuing the family traditions. The anticipation of festival is more intense with the cleaning of the home, buying new clothes and gifts for family and friends, scouting the market for diyas and new kind of lights, and of homemade sweets. Another family tradition from yore is of making Kajal on Diwali !

While the continuing Covid crisis meant multiple visits to the markets were curtailed and depending largely on buying via Amazon, there was no compromise on making delicious food at home. And, of course, the yearly tradition of making kajal (kohl) at home was mandatory.

Making of kajal is very easy – it needs only a diya, ghee or clarified butter, and a vessel to collect the soot on top of the flame, the positioning of the top on the flame requires little balancing act, and if done right, the amount of kohl made lasts the whole year. Some families also make the kajal from almonds.

In Banaras, we had a special clay top or ghanti that was used to make kajal and we carried few of those with us when we shifted from that place. I am not sure what was the original use of these clay tops, but they look lot like cow bells. In fact, I saw similar bells in Sarnath Museum attributed to 1st Century CE – the design remains almost similar to what is available even today. I have read that these special clay tops are available in many small towns across Uttar Pradesh (UP) but I am yet to come across them in Delhi or Noida.

Special clay top used to collect soot from Diya flame to male kajal
Special apparatus or clay top (ghanti) to make kajal

Applying kajal or the black mark is traditionally believed to ward of evil or negative vibes, and since Diwali is all about celebration of good over evil, the tradition of making kajal from the lamp of worship is to bring prosperity and remove hindrances. In many households, the kajal is also applied on the doors, cooking stove, almirahs or safe where money is kept to provide protection.

Lighted diya for making kajal
Kajal making in progress

In modern times, the scientific explanation for applying kajal or kohl made from ghee and free of any harmful chemicals is to counter the irritation or itchiness of eyes caused by smoke from diyas, fire crackers and the resultant pollution post Diwali.

Collected kajal or soot on the Shanti
The collected kajal or soot

One of the famous epigrams of the French writer, journalist and critic Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose “ never sounds more true – the more things change, the more they stay the same. In lot of ways, how we celebrate our festivals has changed, but in many ways they remain the same – the tradition of having besan ke laddu on Diwali, lighting of traditional diyas and crackers and of course, tradition of making kajal at home on Diwali. And I hope to continue this tradition!

My share of kajal in a 100 year old silver dibbi

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