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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 14 November 2018

Families shine light on Indian traditions for Diwali celebrations

UAE residents want to make sure their culture isn't lost in the sands of time as their children grow up far from home

Sandeep Khursude and his son, Adi, light candles outside their home for Diwali. Reem Mohammed/The National
Sandeep Khursude and his son, Adi, light candles outside their home for Diwali. Reem Mohammed/The National

Indian residents are shining a light on their national heritage and making Diwali dazzle across the UAE.

All over the Emirates, houses are decked out with colourful flowers and strings of lights and adorned with rangolis – patterns on the floor or ground made from dried rice, flour or flower petals for good luck – people are donning traditional attire and snacks inspired by their homeland are being served in celebration of India’s biggest Hindu festival.

The Gupta family's Rangoli. Reem Mohammed / The National
The Gupta family's Rangoli. Reem Mohammed / The National

More than three million Indians live in the UAE – with Diwali a great opportunity for them to put their love of their country’s culture up in lights.

Indians in Dubai are paying homage to age-old traditions and family customs for the colourful festival, held every November 7.

Nivedita Khursude is an Indian who has lived in Dubai for nearly a decade.

On Diwali she dresses in the traditional sari from the state of Maharashtra, called the Nauvari sari, which is

Nivedita Khursude puts on her bangles for Diwali. Reem Mohammed/The National
Nivedita Khursude puts on her bangles for Diwali. Reem Mohammed/The National

made of about eight metres of cloth and is draped in a slightly different way from a typical Indian sari.

To keep the Indian values alive far from home, Mrs Khursude makes sure her sons, 11-year-old Aadi and eight-year-old Ahan, and her husband, Sandeep, dress in a dhoti, a traditional garment worn in India, and a pheta, a turban worn in Maharashtra.

Mr Khursude’s parents, who live in India, visit them during Diwali each year and the festival is a family event for them, with prayer ceremonies being held and sweets being cooked in the kitchen.

After her move to Dubai, Mrs Khursude found many Indian teenagers were losing touch with their roots. She is eager to ensure her sons understand the importance of Diwali.

“They have grown up in Dubai and spent most of their life here. We tell them about Diwali and about how it symbolises the victory of good over evil,” Mrs Khursude said.

The Khursude family, including son Ahan, embrace the traditions of Diwali. Reem Mohammed/The National
The Khursude family, including son Ahan, embrace the traditions of Diwali. Reem Mohammed/The National

The mother explains to her sons that the dhoti is an integral symbol of India’s agrarian society.

“They relate to it and they watch movies and understand that it’s their culture.”

She grew up watching her grandmothers sing songs, while crafting rangolis.

“My grandmothers used to wear green bangles and Nauvari saris with traditional Indian jewellery. Thinking about it makes me nostalgic,” she said.

“I don’t want this tradition to die. I follow the traditions I have seen my grandmother and mother follow. My grandmother used to wear Nauvari saris but now I don’t see anyone wearing them. These are my roots, identity and tradition and I accept it.”

At home, they make traditional Indian sweets such as laddoo – a sweet made of flour and sugar and shaped like a ball, chooda and chakli – savoury Indian snacks, and saffron pudding.

After the prayer ceremonies are held, the family also give chocolate boxes and diyas – oil lamps – to their neighbours.

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Although sweets are the traditional gifts in India, chocolates are popular in the UAE.

For Charu Gupta, an Indian finance manager in the emirate, Diwali is a five-day-long celebration filled with festivity, food, family, and friends.

It begins with Dhanteras, when Mrs Gupta and her husband Vipin Gupta buy gold and silver and ends with Bhaidooj, a celebration of the unique bond between a brother and a sister.

This year on Dhanteras, which was celebrated on Monday, Mrs Gupta bought a gold bangle and a silver diya.

The family of four from Delhi have been living in Dubai for 11 years.

“Diwali here is different from India because we can’t burst any crackers here. Also, we spend more time with friends than family here,” said the mother of two.

This year her daughters, Divyanshi, 14, and Kunnjal, 8, are making the rangoli.

Vipin Gupta, with his wife, Charu, and two daughters, Divyanshi and Kunnjal. Reem Mohammed / The National
Vipin Gupta, with his wife, Charu, and two daughters, Divyanshi and Kunnjal. Reem Mohammed / The National

She also organises a celebration of the festival at her daughters’ school, Dubai International Academy in Emirates Hill. She said the school lets them celebrate and through this the pupils learn more about Indian culture. Every child gets a small gift.

To make the celebrations even sweeter, Mrs Gupta cooks North Indian delicacies – lentil dumplings dipped in yoghurt. She also makes besan laddoos – sugary treats made of gram flour, pistachio rice pudding and namak para – a savoury snack prepared with flour.

“We don’t have extended family here but we do celebrate with friends. Within our community, we have pot-luck dinners for Indian families. Diyas are very important and children learn how to celebrate Diwali. We put lights inside and outside the house and the entire house is decked with lights.”

She is nostalgic as she remembers Diwalis spent back home, where she would meet her extended family.

“We miss that here but we try to meet all our friends,” she said.