Diwali, India’s famous festival of light, usually celebrated with crackers, gifts and sweets, returns to Dubai with a much-anticipated pomp after a brief lull due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Al Arabiya English reached out to some Indian community leaders in the Gulf city, which is home to more than three million people from the Asian subcontinent, to understand what the festival now stands for ahead of today’s celebration.
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Traditionally celebrated by Hindu, Sikh and Jain communities, the multi-day festival symbolizes the triumph of good over evil or light over darkness.
“Diwali in Dubai is special,” Dr. Aman Puri, Consul General of India, told Al Arabiya English.
Affirming a widely accepted large-scale return of Diwali celebrations post-COVID, Puri said, “The Indian Diaspora is looking forward to getting into full swing with its celebrations this time after reduced events over the past couple of years.”
The vibrancy of the festival is best displayed on the streets of Old Dubai, primarily Karama and Bur Dubai, where apartment balconies feature an array of colorful LED lights, clay oil lamps and floral decorations.
Long queues have been spotted at florists, sweet shops and jewelry stores leading to the occasion in many Indian neighborhoods in Dubai.
Residents of the United Arab Emirates who observe the intricacies of decades-old traditions ensure a spotless home with fresh decorations, the availability of a diverse selection of treats, new clothes for family members, gifts for friends and engage in group prayers for prosperity from the Hindu goddess of wealth, Lakshmi.
However, in Dubai, a city inhabited by over 200 nationalities, the predominantly Hindu festival is celebrated with equal pomp by much of the city’s nearly ten million population.
The Indian consulate, for example, hosted a “special reception” for the local diplomatic community and “Emirati brothers and sisters to mark ‘International Diplomats Day’ with Diwali spirit”, Puri said.
In another sign of transcending cultural and religious boundaries, the Indian Consulate has partnered with the City’s Department of Tourism (DTCM) to stage fireworks displays at tourist hotspots and provide shopping and dining experiences. unique.
“It has gained great popularity among tourists and residents alike,” the consul general said.
A story as old as time
“Our elders have always reminded us that the late Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum came to our house to celebrate Diwali among us,” recalled Lalit Karani, honorary president of the first Hindu temple in Dubai.
The Hindu place of worship was built in 1959 on land awarded by the late ruler of Dubai. Praising the city’s hospitality, Karani noted how the temple “has witnessed the growth of Dubai like no other”.
Hindu worshipers visit the Hindu temple in Dubai on April 29, 2021. (File photo: AFP)
“Over the past two years, heads of state have come to greet the celebration and allow us to integrate closely with them again,” the temple president said.
“Every year, more than 10,000 devotees flock to Shri Krishna Temple to ask for the blessings of the Lord… Now that Dubai has successfully ended the pandemic, we are all free to come together and celebrate,” said Karani.
“From the days of having to secretly pop crackers for the kids to the point of complete acceptance and support [by the local authorities] was by far the biggest celebratory change,” the honorary president of the decades-old temple remarked.
People shoot fireworks during the celebration of the Hindu festival of Diwali in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, October 19, 2017. (File photo: Reuters)
“The lights installed in everyone’s homes light up the sky like never before. Surely Dubai knows how to be exceptional in this area, even here relying on construction all over Dubai, it looks like they are ready for the next world event,” he told Al Arabiya English.
A party for all
Another community leader, Surender Kandhari, Chairman of Dubai’s Guru Nanak Darbar, passionately explained the story of the festival’s relevance to the Sikh community.
“Diwali is doubly important to us,” Kandhari said in a chat with Al Arabiya English. The Gurudwara welcomes thousands of UAE residents through its gates during the celebration.
“Since the Gurudwara opened in 2012, we have been celebrating Diwali every year with great fanfare,” Kandhari said, crediting the UAE government with contributing to its success as a “community center” for people. of all beliefs.
Backed by a long history of community service, the Sikh place of worship provides free food in a large hall throughout the day by employing cooks and volunteers in a community kitchen called a ‘langar’.
People break their fast in the langar, the Sikh term used for communal kitchen, at the Sikh GuruNanak Darbar temple, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, May 23, 2019. (File photo: Reuters)
“Society in the United Arab Emirates is very inclusive. Thus, each of our celebrations is done with everyone in mind; we celebrate Diwali, Christmas, New Year and even Ramadan,” he said, adding that iftar is available for all 30 days in the Sikh place of worship for those who observe Islamic tradition.
For Diwali, the Gurudwara is expecting nearly 40,000 attendees at its prayer hall and community restaurant, with the support of Dubai Police and the Roads and Transport Authority for security and traffic management, said the president of the Gurudwara.
With festivals like Diwali fostering a sense of cross-cultural understanding between different communities and their traditions, Kandhari said the government supports such activities to a large extent.
“Each religion shows us how to live together, how to exist together, how to support each other.
“Festivals like Diwali allow us to convey these aspects,” Kandhari said decisively.
Karani agrees and noted, “Diwali celebrations have grown by leaps and bounds like the city of Dubai. As a community, we have never felt far from home for the warmth, openness and hospitality offered by local communities. »
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