When it comes to celebrating India’s largest festival, many of her states have widely differing norms and every family its own set of customs and rituals. The result is a delightful potpourri of gifts, sweets and gatherings that vary from esoteric to extravagant.
Assessing trends in the UAE this year, it seems just about everything is being served up, except the kitchen sink. Hina Nair is a Gujarati Jain married to a Keralite, but does not let cultural differences get in the way of her grand plans for Diwali.
With a countdown that starts two months in advance, this UAE resident of nearly 20 years is painstaking in her preparations. “Every year, I look for novel decorations, unusual gifts, best sweets and new Rangoli designs,” she explains.
“When an event runs for five days, you must prepare well beforehand to achieve perfection.” She’s also an advocate of big-ticket purchases at this time. “We truly prefer to buy high-value items at Diwali — it is both auspicious and special.”
Chetna Kochhar can’t wait to bring in a Punjabi Diwali with husband Shilp and sons Kabir and Rajvir. They plan to host one big party at home and attend ten others. “We Punjabis celebrate Diwali in great style,” she says. “There is much laughter, food, lights, games and enthusiastic dancing at many of our parties.”
Besides shopping for decorations and fashionable ensembles, her preparations involve choosing unique gifts. “There are many repetitions and quite some recycling in Dubai, so I like giving gifts that truly stand out,” she says. “I work closely with silversmiths in Delhi to personalise our Diwali gifts and have them sent over.” Her big find this year is a tray to hold the famed Indian post-prandial digestives, cardamom and betel nut.
Anurup Kumar and his wife Vibha have lived in Dubai for 19 years and celebrate Diwali with the gusto that can only be associated with expatriates. “Dubai is our home now and it gives us immense pleasure to celebrate it with friends,” the Madhya Pradesh native says. The Kumars and their children, Arushi and Aarav, have hosted an annual Diwali party at their home in The Meadows for many years, and this year is no different except that their daughter will be away at university in Boston.
But the highlight is undoubtedly the live entertainment planned for their party. “We have had dancers and jugalbandhis in the past and this year we have hired a deejay,” says Kumar.
In Sharjah, Maharashtrian Rashmi Kulkarni is keen to emphasise the homemade and hand-crafted touches in everything they do during the festival. “We invariably follow classic Marathi traditions at Diwali — the cleaning of the house, traditional pujas and the ceremonies associated with the smaller festival of Bhai Dhooj, which falls immediately after Diwali,” says Rashmi Kulkarni.
However, they try to make these rituals as personal as they can. “My daughters Rituja and Aditi paint every lamp we light, while I craft all our gift and sweet boxes,” she says.
“We work on original rangoli designs and I cook everything myself including complicated sweets such as anarsa.”
There is probably no young Indian keener to experience the festivalthan Dino George who is new to the UAE. “I grew up in Kerala where hardly anything happens during Diwali, so this is going to be my first ever Diwali celebration. I cannot wait to walk the streets of Karama and Bur Dubai to see the lights and explore this magical season. I have heard all the stories and am waiting patiently to experience it.”
The five days decoded
The festival of lights is celebrated over five days, beginning with Dhanteras, on October 17 this year. The word dhan means wealth and people traditionally buy precious metals on this day to usher in prosperity. The second day, Choti Diwali, is a day of small celebrations, but the crescendo is reached on day three when Diwali is celebrated by worshiping the goddess of wealth, Lakshmi, and decorating houses with rows of lamps to ward off darkness and evil spirits. The next day is devoted to Lord Krishna, while the final day, Bhai Dooj, is meant for brothers and sisters.