Festive Science: Deepavali

7 min read

With the end of 2023 approaching, the Festival of Lights will wrap up the year in a brilliant glow! Deepavali is based on the lunar calendar, with this year’s celebrations set to begin on 12 November. During this time, legends of gods and goddesses will be told, diyas lit, rangolis crafted, tasty treats eaten and light displays admired.

Let’s take a closer look at how science is woven into the practices of Deepavali!

Inspired by Nature: the Symmetry of Rangolis
Rangolis can be created anytime of the year to ward off evil and bring prosperity into the home, but festive designs are especially stunning. Symmetrical rangolis are made from dots and curved lines of sand or powders, often drawing inspiration from nature by incorporating floral or animal motifs. Since human brains are wired to perceive and enjoy both natural and manmade symmetry, rangolis are scientifically pleasing to the eye!

Lighting Up the Way: Make Your Own Diyas!
Diyas are oil lamps made of clay, symbolising goodness and purity by dispelling evil and darkness. Once the tip of the oil-soaked cotton wick is lit, the wick will carry oil from its base to the tip and keep the flame burning. This movement of liquid up a narrow space is called capillary action, naturally defying gravity. Plants also use capillary action to bring water up their stems.

Source: https://www.firstpost.com/living/dhanteras-2022-why-do-people-light-oil-lamps-on-this-day-know-its-significance-11472331.html

Parental supervision is advised as this activity includes baking with an oven and using matches or lighters.

Try making your own diyas at home with these materials:
● ½ cup of wheat flour
● Mixing bowl
● Water
● Spoon to stir
● Baking tray
● Non-stick spray or olive oil spray, or butter/coconut oil
● Cooling rack
● Acrylic paint
● Paintbrush
● Optional decorative materials (i.e. glue, glitter, plastic gems, etc.)
● Cotton wicks
● Vegetable oil
● Lighter or matches

Making the Dough

  1. Pour your wheat flour into the mixing bowl.
  2. Pour a little water into the bowl. Mix the water and the wheat flour with your hands.
  3. Repeat the previous step until the wheat flour feels like dough.
  4. Take the dough out of the bowl once you can roll it into a round ball.

To further engage your child, you can consider asking these questions:
● How does the ball of dough feel?
● How does the flour change as you add more water to the bowl?
● Can you try pressing the dough in different ways (i.e. pinching, folding, turning the dough)?

Forming the Bowls

  1. Divide the dough into three smaller dough balls.
  2. Flatten the middle of one dough ball slightly to form a bowl.
  3. Using your thumb and index finger, pinch the edge of the bowl to form a pointed tip.
  4. Repeat Steps 6 and 7 for the other two bowls.

Baking the Diyas

  1. Grease your baking tray with your non-stick spray.
  2. Place all three diyas onto the tray.
  3. Bake the diyas at 200℃ for 15 minutes. Check on the diyas at the halfway point and press on the bottom of the bowl if it begins to puff up.
  4. Remove the diyas once they are stiff and hard.
  5. Place the diyas on a cooling rack until they reach room temperature.

To further engage your child, you can consider asking these questions:
● Does the bowl feel softer or harder after being baked? How so?
● Can you still change the shape of the bowl with your hands once it has finished baking? Why or why not?

Decorating the Diyas

  1. Decorate your diyas with any decorative materials you have.
  2. Paint your diyas any colour you wish using acrylic paint and your paintbrush.

To further engage your child, you can consider the following:

● Invite your child to play with different brush strokes and see the effect they have on the diya.
● Experiment with different colours and see how they mix together to form new colours.

Lighting Up the Diyas

  1. Cut an 8 cm cotton wick. Repeat this three times.
  2. Dip the cotton wicks into 1/4 cup of vegetable oil.
  3. Place one oil-soaked wick into each diya, leaning one end of the wick near the pointed tip of the diya.
  1. Pour more oil into the diya, covering the base of the wick.
  2. Light the tip of the cotton wick with the lighter and admire your homemade diya!

To further your child’s learning, you can try this extra activity:

  1. Try adding ½ a teaspoon of oil into one diya, 1 teaspoon of oil into the second diya, and 1 tablespoon of oil into the third diya.
  2. Light up the diyas at the same time and watch them burn! [Caution: be careful of the flame!]
  3. Use a timer to see how long it takes each diya to finish burning its oil.

To complement this activity, you can consider asking your child these questions:
● Do the diyas take the same amount of time to burn? How can we make the diyas burn slower/faster?
● Observe how bright the flames are between the three diyas. Does the amount of oil affect how brightly the flame burns?

While celebrating the Festival of Lights this November, remember to admire the symmetrical and intricate rangolis and brilliant diyas lighting up all around the island. Happy Deepavali!

Written by Goh Wanling
Featured image by Jarrod Chua




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