x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Diwali habits die hard

Despite price rises, Indians don't like to show restraint on Dhanteras, the first day of the Diwali festival of lights.

Indian schoolgirls light candles as they sit near a 'Rangoli', made from coloured powder during pre-Diwali celebrations at school in Amritsar.
Indian schoolgirls light candles as they sit near a 'Rangoli', made from coloured powder during pre-Diwali celebrations at school in Amritsar.

NEW DELHI // Kantimati Sudhakaran is 71 and admits she cannot let go of old habits. On Sunday, she bought herself a diamond-studded gold nose ring.

But she wasn't alone in her indulgence on Dhanteras, the first day of Diwali, the three-day Hindu festival of lights and dedicated to Lakshi, the goddess of wealth.

Dhanteras is the biggest single day for gold and silver sales in the country.India's state-owned Metals and Mineral Trading Corporation alone reported sales worth more than 600 million rupees (Dh40.4m), a 25 per cent increase over last year, despite the rising gold prices. But neither the climbing prices nor inflation, which rose to 9.75 per cent in October, has yet to trump the Diwili tradition.

"The price of everything has gone up this year, but this is one time in the year you cannot show restraint," said Missy Ahluwalia, 37, who was doing some last-minute shopping at Delhi's Greater Kailash market for silver pendants. "Because you look back at this day for the rest of the year and see that you started off on a good note."

Diwali begins the new year on the Hindu calendar and celebrates the return of the ancient King of Ayodhya, Rama, after 14 years of exile, and the defeat of the demon king, Ravana. People light candles and decorate buildings with lights to symbolise the triumph of light over darkness.

It is also very social time of year.

"We have some last-minute guests who are dropping in this year, so everyone must have a gift," said Mrs Ahluwalia, a homemaker. "This is one of the biggest days in the social calendar. Even if it drives you mad, you will sit in traffic for hours just to be able to visit your friends' homes and exchange boxes of sweets."

Balraj Kalra's knows all about the festival madness. His shop in Delhi's busy Lajpat Nagar's Central market was full of stressed-out shoppers battling over piles of discounted printed cotton cloth.

In his flat above the shop, his wife was fretting over last-minute Diwali preparations, overseeing the placement of diyas, or earthen lamps, along with supervising their daughters in the traditional decorative drawings of rangoli with coloured rice powder.

"No matter how much you prepare in the days ahead, this always happens,'' Mr Kalra, 42, said. "Every year I have panicked shoppers and a panicked wife."

While jewellery stores beckoned, necklaces and rings weren't the only items selling.

Rajeev Chawla, who runs an electronics store in New Delhi, said computer tablets were flying off the shelves.

"People want to customise it with engravings and give it in place of a gold coin," Mr Chawla said.

Amid all the shopping, a corner of his shop was being cleaned for prayers, with marigolds providing the decorations. "Every year I pray for the same thing," he said. "Health and success."

sbhattacharya@thenational.ae