I have been visiting Dubai since 1998 but we moved here only in 2004. Initially, we lived in Bur Dubai which is famous for its Indian community and Diwali celebrations. On our first Diwali, it wasn’t the same as back home, but with so many Indians around, we did feel the same spirit but in a small scale.
Diwali back home, was a time when the whole city came alive with decorative lights, lanterns and diyas. We woke up to the sound of crackers and also slept with the sound around. There was an exciting energy all around. The local shops sold Diwali special delicacies like ladoo, karanjis and shankerpala, the taste of which still lingers in my mouth.
For me, Diwali encapsulates a spirit of positivity and community spirit. My father, Sundar Sirur, was a firm believer in inclusivity, and he made it a point to involve the entire neighborhood in our celebrations. We found great joy in preparing homemade sweets and sharing them with our Muslim, Christian, and Parsi neighbours.
We had a special bathing ritual called Abhyanga Snana on Diwali morning. This tradition involved applying coconut oil generously on the body and rinsing it off with ubtan, a coarse powder composed of aromatic herbs. Then, adorned in our new traditional attire and gold jewellery, we would attend the special pooja held at home. After the rituals came the indulgence of homemade sweets, such as my mother’s special rava ladoo (recipe provided) and savory rice flakes. As the sun set, my two elder sisters took charge of adorning the house entrance with vibrant rangoli designs and illuminated them with diyas, while I assisted them.
1 cup semolina
1 cup powdered sugar
15 each, raisins and cashews
Heat ghee in a pan, and add rava and roast it. When slightly brown add sugar. and stir well. Then add raisins and cashews. and mix well. Remove from heat when done. Once it cools, roll the mixture into medium-sized balls. Once they are cooled, they are ready to serve.
Following this, the three of us joined our neighbours in the jubilant tradition of bursting crackers.
My husband Swapnil is a Maharashtrian. So, my daughter Svea,17, has a nice fusion of both our Diwali traditions. After the bath, there is a ritual of crushing a cucumber-like fruit called “chirate” which is symbolic of killing the demon Narkasura in our mythology.
Then we perform “aukshan”, where a plate lit with lamp, kumkum, haldi and sweet is passed around the family members by the mother. As a mother, I receive gifts from my husband and daughter for performing the ritual.
Looking back, Diwali has also been a time that taught me valuable life lessons. One incident stands out when my elder sister tried to inspect a stubborn firecracker in her hands, leading to an unexpected burst. Fortunately, she wasn’t seriously hurt, but it served as a reminder to be cautious with firecrackers.
Another time, my mother gifted me a gold earring during Diwali and I lost one of the pair. My mother did not scold me though, as it was Diwali and just asked me to be careful. Eventually, I learned that life may throw unexpected surprises, but there’s always something positive to take away from every experience.
I vividly remember my first Diwali in UAE 18 years ago in 2005. I spent it with my cousin Shilpi Khumbat and her family. Having been residents of Abu Dhabi since 1996, they were already integrated into a thriving Jain community consisting of around 20 families who wholeheartedly celebrated Diwali. This enabled me to become a part of their close-knit circle and I had a wonderful celebration that felt remarkably like the festivities I was accustomed to back home. Today, this community has become stronger with more than 80 families and the celebrations are also more vibrant.
In my hometown of Jodhpur, Rajasthan, Diwali is one of the most auspicious occasions of the year for which preparations start well in advance. The entire house would be cleaned and painted. It is also a time to let go of old unwanted things, whether material or emotional. Since ours is a joint family, my grandmother, mother, and aunt would get into a cooking frenzy to prepare many Diwali delicacies beforehand.
In my childhood. even though Diwali is a five-day celebration, the bursting of crackers– which we would buy with our pocket money– would start 15 days in advance. Towards Diwali, my uncle would buy us more firecrackers of our choice.
On the day of Diwali, our entire house would be decorated with the warm glow of diyas (earthen lamps) creating a mesmerizing spectacle. The following day, on the occasion of Lakshmi Pooja, we would reverently touch the feet of our elders as a sign of respect, and in return, they would give us money, typically ranging from Rs1 to Rs5. By the end of the day, we’d accumulate around Rs 20, which felt like a small fortune in those times.
The day after, with our newly acquired income, my cousins and I would rent bicycles and explore the town while sipping on fizzy drinks. Those were truly wonderful and carefree days.
I have two daughters Mahak (16) and Saachi (11). My wife Raksha and I have inculcated all our traditional values in them, and they also enjoy Diwali festivities by putting Rangoli (art design on the floor) and decorating the house with Diyas.
We have a special tradition of writing down the names of all the people who are present in the house during pooja in a bahi khata (old, red coloured books). This helps us remember the people who have been with us on this special occasion over the years.
1.5 cups long-grain white Basmati rice
¾ cup yoghurt
2 potatoes, medium sized
1 carrot large
½ cup each, cauliflower florets and green peas
1 each, onion, tomato
3 green chillies, finely chopped
1-inch piece ginger and 3 cloves garlic, ground into a paste
Bread 2 slices
15 to 20 cashew nuts
6 black peppercorn
3 green cardamom
½ inch cinnamon stick
1 each, bay leaf, black cardamom
1 tsp each, cumin and caraway seeds, and red chilli and coriander powders
½ tsp turmeric powder
Saffron strands 8 to 10
½ cup ghee
Wash and soak rice in 3 cups water for 10 mins. Transfer rice and water to a pan, add 1/2 tsp salt. Cook till rice is around 70% done.
Grind together peppercorns, cardamom, cloves and cinnamon, and keep aside. Add saffron strands to half cup of warm milk and set aside. Peel potatoes and carrots and slice into thin rounds. Keep aside. Heat a tbsp ghee or oil in a pan on medium heat. Add cashew nuts and saute for 2-3 minutes till slightly golden brown. Remove from oil and place on a paper towel. Add more ghee to the pan and fry each vegetable separately.
Make croutons by frying bread pieces in oil on high heat. Keep aside.
Heat oil in a pan and add cumin seeds, bay leaf and black cardamom. When cumin seeds start to crackle add onion and sauté until onion starts changing color, then add chilli, and ginger-garlic paste. Add salt, turmeric, red chili and coriander powders and stir well. Add yoghurt. Keep stirring on medium flame till yoghurt comes to a boil. Add fried vegetables. Sprinkle ground spices and let vegetables simmer in the gravy for about 5 minutes.
To layer: first make a layer of half of the cooked rice in a deep heavy bottomed pan or wok. Make a layer of half the vegetable gravy on top of the rice layer. Add a layer of croutons, cashews and fresh chopped coriander leaves. Add a layer of the remaining cooked rice. Add rest of the gravy on top of the rice and remaining croutons and cashews. Add roasted cashews and raisins. Thinly slice onions and tomatoes and add the salad on the top. Finish with a layer of freshly chopped coriander leaves.
Now make a small hole in the middle and pour the saffron milk in the hole. Cover the pan with an aluminum foil and cover it with a lid. Cook for 15 minutes on low heat then turn off the heat. Let it rest for another 15 minutes, then remove the lid of the pan.
Another Diwali tradition in our house is making Kabuli (recipe given) and finishing it off with delicious fruit cream (fresh fruits and dry fruits mixed with cream)
I landed in Abu Dhabi in May 2014. By the time the first Diwali came around in November, I was missing my family back home very badly. Sensing my homesickness, an Indian family invited me to their home, so that I could be part of their celebrations.
However, this incident left an indelible mark on my mind and I started thinking of all the people, especially bachelors, who would be alone during festive occasions and missing their families terribly. I got the idea to form a group for Bihari families which would help everyone from our community celebrate all festivals with a common fraternal bond.
In Feb 2019, I founded Bihar Samaj in Abu Dhabi which started out with 10 families, today we are a robust group with more than 600 families that celebrate all festivals and cultural activities pertaining to the Bihar, Jharkhand and Purvanchal areas in a traditional way. I also serve as the President of the Samaj
Back in my hometown of Chhapra, Diwali is a big celebration. The entire family will be busy in cleaning and colouring the entire house and decorating it with lights and diyas. Everyone in the neighbourhood tries to make their decorations more unique than the other. We kids would be busy in making kandels (lanterns) with colour paper and trying to hang them from the highest bamboo pole or post that we could find.
A special dish we prepare during Diwali is different types of bachka (recipe below). It is also known as bhajiya in many states.
For the batter:
½ cup gram flour
2/3rd cup water
2 tsp Mustard oil
1 tsp Ginger-garlic paste
1 green chilli, finely chopped
2tbsp fresh coriander, finely chopped
1 tsp, each cumin seeds, and garam masala, turmeric and red chilli powders
For the bachka:
1 cup black chickpea –
1 small onion –
Soak the kala chana for 5 hours, then pressure cook it with a pinch of salt, for one or two whistles. Drain in a colander, let it cool off for 15- 20 minutes.
To prepare the batter: in a bowl, add besan and salt, add little water whisking to make a batter of medium or coating consistency.
To temper: heat mustard oil in a pan, add cumin seeds, ginger garlic paste, green chilli, turmeric powder, red chili powder, garam masala. Sauté for 1 minute and add to the besan batter. Mix well. Check the seasoning.
Add the cooled Kala Chana to besan batter, along with chopped onions, mix well. Heat oil in deep frying pan, now with the help of two spoons add the batter in small, small quantities to the oil. Fry till golden brown.
Drain on a tissue paper, sprinkle some chaat masala, over and serve
.We have a very unique custom in Bihar called Kuliya Chukiya (clay pots and pans in vibrant colours).
In this ritual, the village potter brings the small pots and pans to every house a day before Diwali. Then an elder sister of the household, fills the pots with it full of mudhi (roasted rice) and batasa (sweet made of sugar and jaggery). In the evening, she arranges the pots on a prayer stand and prays for the wellbeing of her brothers. On Diwali day, she distributes these pots to her brothers.
During Diwali, my parents used to take us to distribute food and crackers to underprivileged kids. It taught us the importance of sharing our happiness especially during festivals.
I have two daughters Aaradhya (7) and Ananya (4 months). My wife Pushpa and I ensure that we celebrate Diwali with all family and share with them the story behind the rituals.
In 2013, my family and I relocated to Abu Dhabi. We celebrated our first Diwali in our new residence with family and friends. To recreate the festive atmosphere from back home, my wife Reeta adorned our house with diyas, kandels, colorful lights and rangoli. A dish we prepare is rice kheer.
After the celebration at home, we join over 50 families from our community in festivities.
1 cup rice, soaked in water overnight
1/4 cup blanched and sliced almonds
6 green cardamom
100g crushed cashew nuts
5 strands saffron
Place milk in a vessel and bring to a boil. Add rice, cardamom and sugar. Stir well. Cover and allow mixture to cook for 10-12 minutes. Open the lid and reheat mixture on high flame until a thick and creamy consistency is obtained. Garnish with raisins, saffron, cashews and almonds.
In Cuttack, our hometown, the level and enthusiasm of Diwali celebrations are unmatched. We illuminate our homes, workplaces, and every corner of the city with vibrant lights.
This festival serves as an annual reunion and bonding time for not only families but also entire communities and society at large. Our daughters, Ritika (21) and Tanvika (16), are well-versed in traditions we uphold.