With more than a billion people celebrating the festival of lights, which falls on October 27 this year, Diwali is one of the most significant religious observances around the world. While the occasion carries different meanings for different people and religious communities, Indians in the UAE are set to celebrate the festival with a lot of enthusiasm.
People from different states have varied customs, but all believe it is an ideal occasion to keep their culture and traditions alive.
It’s a common tradition to pray to Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, and worship account books as the season marks the start of the new Hindu financial year. Many also consider this festival as an auspicious time to splurge on gold, jewellery, clothes and other expensive purchases.
Jagruti Goradia, a Gujarati homemaker, and her family start each of the five days of Diwali visiting the Shri Krishna temple in Bur Dubai. At home, they offer prayers and prepare various homemade sweets and dishes. “This year, I will make mewa dhooghare or gujiya (traditional deep-fried dumplings made with maida and stuffed with a mixture of sweetened khoya and dried fruits),” she says.
“Oil lamps made of clay (diyas) and decorative lights all placed over the house. As a ritual on Dhanteras, we buy some gold or silver every year as it is believed to be very auspicious and brings good luck. We do chopada poojan (worshipping account books) and pray to Goddess Lakshmi on the day of Diwali. The day after Diwali is our New Year, and this year we are planning to distribute boxes of essential everyday items at a labour camp in Dubai to spread our happiness with them. In the evening, we visit Krishna temple for Annkut celebration, where several hundreds of varieties of food are offered to the deity.”
Diwali is the time to celebrate with friends and family. For Juhi Malhotra, an interior designer in Dubai, it’s a perfect opportunity to host guests from varied cultural backgrounds. “We had an inter-caste marriage,” she says. “I’m Punjabi and my husband is Sindhi so our friends and family have mixed backgrounds. Such celebrations give us a chance to enjoy the festival with multiple traditions and tastes. I love to create exclusive spaces in my home to host these guests.”
Last year, Malhotra created a small majlis corner in her home that was decorated with lights from floor to ceiling, bringing the outdoor patio feel indoors. Everyone attending the gathering had to bring one of their cultural dishes, giving all guests the taste of various cultures. “This year, we have decided to do it in an eco-conscious way,” says Malhotra. “We realised that a lot of food gets wasted and we used plastic plates and cutlery in large numbers that were dumped later. This time we are keeping a limited menu options to avoid food wastage and will use bamboo plates to reduce the negative effects on our environment.”
Abu Dhabi-based Vipruta Vagadiya is also going plastic-free this year by making all eco-friendly festive decor items at home. Vagadiya, who runs a Gujju Goriyo Group that organises Diwali events for its members has painted the mud diyas and lantern lamps, and is making torans (door hangings) on her own. “I will make rangolis (floor designs) with dry powder colour, avoiding all readymade plastic décor options that we purchase from the market,” she says. “Even for sweets, I am preparing homemade chocolates this year.”
Vagadiya is also involving her nine-year-old son in these preparations, encouraging him to think of the planet. “Right from my childhood days in India, I visit the temple on Diwali and New Year, and this year too we will be attending the religious ritual on November 1 at the new temple site in Abu Dhabi,” she says. “This way, my son can also learn about the customs and witness the rituals.”
Monika Prasad, a marketing professional in Dubai, also wants to introduce her festive rituals to her children. After ten years of living in Bur Dubai, a buzzing place during Diwali, this year Prasad and her family will be celebrating their first festival in Mudon, where they live among diverse nationalities. “We will do Lakshmi puja at home with my family like every year,” she says. “Then we will share some sweets with non-Indian neighbours, inviting them to be a part of our celebrations.”
Prasad will make her children build decorated mud dollhouses called gharaundas, just like her mother made her do in her childhood. “These mud homes were meant to welcome Lord Ram back home, after his victory over Ravana,” she explains. “I will also read the story of Lord Ram with the kids, so they learn about age-old traditions practised back home.”
Professional photographer Sangeeta Khaira will teach her three-year-old daughter everything about Diwali, including the Pooja rituals. “I will let her watch the crackers but keep her at a distance,” she says. “Every year we come up with different rangoli concepts. This year I want my daughter to participate so I will keep the floor design child-friendly and use material that’s not harmful. For me, Diwali brings the entire family together in these busy times to eat, pray and love.”
Putting up lights and decorating the house with flowers and rangoli is not enough for Diwali, says Yangche Lama. Along with celebrating the festival with her family and friends, the Tibetan/Nepali flight attendant plans on distributing meals to workers in a neighbouring construction site.
“Lighting up the lives of those less-privileged than us makes Diwali more meaningful for me,” she says.