Dubai: Indian expats in the UAE have begun mega celebrations of Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, post COVID-19. Though the ritualistic celebrations are held over five days starting from Dhanteras that falls on Saturday, October 22 this time, many have already begun decorating their houses and preparing sweets and other Diwali delicacies many days earlier.
Rows of apartment balconies have been lit with colourful lights across several streets in Dubai, especially in Bur Dubai and Mankhool.
Several Indian schools in the UAE saw students and teachers celebrating the festival in colourful ethnic dresses on Friday, the last working day before the four-day break they received for Diwali.
Shopping spree for Diwali gifts, sweets and décor had begun days before and is set to continue over the weekend with Dhanteras seeing a large number of people specifically buying gold.
Families and community groups have geared up for the biggest Diwali bash in Dubai with a variety of sweets, traditional diyas (lamps) and LED lights, beautiful rangolis (colourful patterns decorating the floor) and much more.
The festival that symbolises the victory of good over evil is traditionally celebrated over five days which are referred to as Dhanteras, Chhoti Diwali, Diwali, Govardhan Puja and Bhai Dooj.
Since the main day of Diwali this time falls on Monday, a working day, most of the family get-togethers, Diwali parties and community events are happening over the weekend and are set to continue for the upcoming weekends as well.
Get-togethers after years
Reema Mahajan, founder of Indian Women in Dubai (IWD), a popular online community in Dubai, said: “Diwali this year is very special as all the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted and we can plan get-togethers again after two years.”
She said IWD is planning a Diwali lunch get-together with more than 150 members attending the event. “It will be a memorable day with a journey back to celebrating India - with traditional attire, delicious Indian food, Diwali decor with diyas and flowers along with some fun games to be played. We also have a special section where Children of Determination will be doing an Indian dance performance - which I am sure will be the showstopper.”
The group is also running a variety of Diwali special offers, giveaways and discounts for the members through its online platforms.
On a personal level, Mahajan said her family is “inviting close friends and family home to celebrate the spirit of togetherness where we will have traditional food, puja and customs celebrated on the Diwali day.”
“Also to raise awareness about our Indian festival, we are distributing diyas and mithai (sweets) to kids in my children’s school, Kings’ School, Al Barsha. There is also a story telling session on how good always prevails over evil.”
Keeping alive traditions
Archana Kapoor, a musculoskeletal physiotherapist, with Good Living Medical Centre in Jumeirah, said the festival of lights has forever been a spiritual experience coupled with a true sense of togetherness for her.
“Be it India or Dubai, each year the celebrations can be experienced with a fresh spirit of love, light and community. This year will be no exception. Be it the Diwali parties with friends or our traditional family lunch, the festivities will be enjoyed to the fullest.”
Kapoor said her daughter Aaradhya is particularly excited about Diwali this year since she has started understanding its significance.
“It can be seen in her participation in all the rituals pertaining to the festival. Whether it’s the customary house clean-up or selecting rangoli designs, decorating the house with lights and diyas or selecting clothes and food menu; she has been a part of it all.”
Appreciating the series of celebrations and events happening across Dubai, she said: “Though we expats are away from our families back home, Dubai never ceases to celebrate with us with the atmosphere being so festive all around. There is something about Diwali here that brings immense pleasure, positivity and hope for new beginnings and a brighter future ahead.”
This year, the ‘Diwali in Dubai’ calendar is packed with an array of fantastic offers, thrilling raffles, spectacular live entertainment, incredible fireworks and captivating events for the city’s residents and visitors to enjoy the festival of lights over a city-wide celebration until October 28.
It’s Deepavali for some
While the north Indians call the festival Diwali, it is Deepavali for many in south India, both essentially meaning ‘rows or lines of lamps.’
“In Tamil Nadu, Deepavali denotes that the darkness within us and in our home is removed through the light emanating from the rows of lamps. Deepavali for us is a celebration of life, victory of goodness over evil and an opportunity to care and share,” said Parvathy Narayanan, general secretary of Tamil Ladies Association (TLA), Dubai.
“The oil that we use to light the traditional lamp is a mixture of five different oils such as Ghee, Mahua oil, Neem oil, Castor oil and Gingelly oil. This concoction is called “Panchadeepa ennai” - pancha means five, deepa means lamp and ennai means oil,” she explained.
On Deepavali day, she said everyone starts the day with an oil bath. “Subsequently, all the family members adorn new clothes bought specifically for the occasion after performing the puja at home. Along with the new dresses, a platter of sweets, savouries and crackers are also offered during the puja back home.”
Approved by the Community Development Authority in Dubai, TLA organises events such as Pattimandram (a Tamil debate show) and various Tamil cultural programmes involving members’ families.
“We have members from other Indian communities as well who are part of all our celebrations. This celebration provides an opportunity for the Tamil community to get together, share experiences and have nostalgic moments,” said Narayanan.
This year, as part of the Deepavali celebrations, TLA is planning an initiative for workers called ‘Light a Lamp, Spread a Smile’ the details of which will be finalised after obtaining necessary approvals from the authorities, she added.
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Rangolis, sweets and savouries
Avinash Bhatia, regional sales manager at Hitachi Energy, said his wife Manisha is a professional rangoli maker and hence Diwali is a special time for her to show her artistic skills in making rangoli.
“She has been creating beautiful rangolis for years on both personal and professional bases. We celebrate Diwali with full enthusiasm... My wife is passionate about cooking and prepares traditional Diwali mithai (sweets) n namkeens (savouries) like laddu, gujiyas, chakli, shakkar para, chiwada etc. The whole house is lit with diyas and colourful lightings. In fact, our entire building, Al Baha, is covered with beautiful lights.”
Bhatia said his family celebrates Diwali over five days. “We take pride in celebrating this festival with gaiety and enthusiasm.”
He said wearing ethnic outfits, inviting friends for dinner and distributing sweets to friends, relatives, colleagues, staff and helpers are integral parts of Diwali celebrations.
“We also do puja of Goddess Lakshmi on Diwali day and kheel batasha (puffed rice mixed with sugar) is the main Prasad (devotional offering),” Bhatia added.
While some families take the effort of making the Diwali special sweets and savouries at home, majority of the expats depend on the sweet shops, restaurants and hypermarkets who are making brisk business during the festive season. Gifting Diwali sweet boxes is also part of Dubai’s corporate culture for several years now.
A word of caution
However, doctors have a word of caution against overindulgence in Diwali sweets and delicacies.
Dr. Shailesh Kumar, consultant, Gastroenterology and Hepatology at Thumbay University Hospital, said overeating during festive season causes two main concerns.
“Firstly, consuming too much food in your stomach increases the chances of belching and acid reflux. It can, in all possibility, worsen the symptoms of heartburn and abdominal discomfort in those who already have gastroesophageal reflux disease GERD.”
Secondly, he pointed out that overeating spikes up your daily calorie intake, and the surplus calories are converted to fat and stored in the body, leading to weight gain and also high sugar levels in those suffering from diabetes.
Dr Kumar said heartburn is associated not just with what you consume, but also with the quantity of the food consumed. “Excessive eating of fried, sugary and packaged foods is one of the major reasons for heartburn. Reducing your meal portions can considerably lower the possibility of developing heartburn, at every stage of life. Hence, during festive seasons, it’s best to break up your meals over time by eating smaller portions so that you do not end up with digestive concerns such as bloating, heartburn, etc.,” he added.