What Diwali Means To Me – Ishay Govender-Ypma

Ishay Govender-Ypma is a freelance food and culture journalist. Here, she reminisces about Diwali during her childhood
Ishay Govender-Ypma
Ishay Govender-Ypma
November 04, 2018


My memories of Diwali – or Deepavali as it is known in our home, along South Africa’s humid east coast – are some of my most precious. Preceded by a fortnight of tantalising aromas of ghee, chickpea flour, sugar, saffron and coconut toasting and simmering, the festival commences before sunrise. We were woken and taken to the bathroom, where my mother applied a homemade blend of mustard, almond and coconut oils to our limbs, reciting a blessing as she did so, before we scrubbed it off. This ‘oil bath’ symbolised renewal.


After the oil bath, my mother performed a prayer, and we indulged in sultana-studded sweet rice (similar to Portuguese rice pudding). For many, Diwali signals a new beginning, and so our homes are spring-cleaned and we dress in colourful clothes to commence the day-long ritual of visiting friends and neighbours, carting beautifully wrapped plates or bowls of mithai (sweetmeats) like chana magaj (crumbly chickpea flour fudge), butter biscuits topped with delicate silver foil, coconut ice and poli (pastries filled with spiced shredded coconut and sugar).


We took great pride in rolling cotton-wool wicks to be soaked in oil for clay lamps. Several neighbours would adorn their houses in automated light displays and fireworks would shimmer and pop across the skies until early morning.