The Diwali festival at Dubai Festival City.
The Diwali festival at Dubai Festival City. Image Credit: Antonin Kellian Kallouche/Gulf News

Dubai: Indian expats praised the UAE’s tolerance and the benevolence of its leaders as Dubai officially kicked off the biggest ever celebration of Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, on Thursday.

Tens of thousands of festival revellers attended a series of shows and performances at different venues organised under the patronage of Dubai Festivals and Retail Establishment (DFRE), an agency of Dubai Tourism, and the Indian Consulate in Dubai.

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The Diwali extravaganza at Dubai Festival City Mall under the theme, ‘Make Your Diwali Brighter Than Ever,’ saw thousands gathering to watch Bollywood dances, a special IMAGINE show “Hathi’s Garden”, the Middle East’s first-ever Elephant Parade Exhibition consisting 50 life-size elephant calves to spread awareness about elephant conservation.

Officials from local authorities and the consulate along with Dubai-based Indian actress Nyla Usha joined the celebrations. The young and the old danced to the tunes of popular Bollywood songs.

People erupted in cheers and patriotic emotions ran high as Dubai Police Band played the national anthems of both the UAE and India. The celebrations culminated with a spectacular fireworks display.

Saurabh Saraf, a finance manager from Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh, said he decided not to fly home with his wife and daughter for Diwali unlike in the past two years of his stay in Dubai because he got to know that the Diwali celebrations are going to be the biggest here this time. “Instead I flew in my parents to celebrate Diwali with us.”

Reporting: Sajila Saseendran, Senior Reporter; Produced by Logan Fish, Video Editor

At the Festival Bay with his wife Palak, daughter Anika and parents, Saraf said he doesn’t feel like he is away from India. “We thank the UAE government for taking so much of efforts to help us celebrate our festivals so well. I recently celebrated the Kerala festival wearing mundu. It feels so great to celebrate our own festivals in a foreign land in such a big way.”

His parents Ashok and Radha Saraf, who are visiting the UAE for the first time, said they were amazed to see a Hindu festival being celebrated by people of different cultures in such a big way. “The main difference from India that I can see here is that everyone is treated equally. You can’t make out who is from which caste. You see people from different religions and nationalities celebrating in a very organised and disciplined way.”

Manu Nair, a marketing manager from Mumbai In Maharashtra, who came with Sheeba and daughter Sarah, said they feel lucky to be living in Dubai in a multicultural environment and celebrating their festivals in great fervour. “Celebrations here are very colourful and there are many events that we can go to apart from we celebrating at home,” said Nair. “The main thing I’m happy about is that children here get a chance to know what is Diwali and celebrate it with people of different cultures,” said Sheeba, a banker.

“The shows, the fireworks and everything is so great and the feeling of togetherness is really great. We are really thankful to the Dubai authorities for all these,” she said.

Among the people of other nationalities who came to be part of the celebrations were Jeska Washington and Keia Pannell from the US. Vice-principal of North American International School in Dubai, Washington said they had been hearing a lot about the big Diwali celebrations in Dubai.

“We have a lot of Indian staff at our school and it is a holiday for us on Sunday for Diwali. So instead of researching about it on Google we felt you have to live to get the real feel of the festival,” said Washington.

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The Dewali festival at Festival City. Dubai. Photo: Antonin Kélian Kallouche/Gulf News

Pannell, an English teacher in the same school, said it felt great to see the Indians celebrating with big fanfare. “The UAE is a role model for tolerance and communal harmony. Where else can you see all these?”

Ajmera Surender Naik from Hyderabad, a restaurant manager in Dubai Festival City, said he felt prouder to be part of the festivities taking place in the premises of his workplace along with his family members. “We had excellent celebrations. I’m so proud and happy that this year’s celebrations have been the biggest with special Hathi show, the fireworks and lots of dances.”