Diwali in Saudi Arabia: gold, lamps and sweets as Hindus celebrate

Festival of light celebrations take off as kingdom eases Covid-19 restrictions

Hindu residents of Saudi Arabia are lighting up their homes for Diwali, sharing the festival of lights with the kingdom's other inhabitants.

Diwali is typically celebrated by socialising and exchanging gifts with family and friends. Many light oil lamps or candles to symbolise a victory of light over darkness, and fireworks are set off as part of the celebrations.

Last year, celebrations worldwide were upended by the Covid-19 pandemic, creating extra excitement over festivities this year.

“On Diwali, we decorate our homes, make sweets and savoury snacks and meet our friends,” said Aksha Patel, an Indian resident of the kingdom.

“We are going to a Diwali party with 40-50 people. We have dinner, games and traditional dandiya [a dance that uses wooden sticks] dances planned. Celebrations will go on till 2am.

“In the morning, I had friends over to make the rangoli while I cooked traditional delicacies for them.

“We got dressed in gold jewellery and silk saris. For the evening, my husband and I wear matching outfits. We got these from India especially for Diwali.”

The preceding days are filled with cooking and decorating.

Ms Patel said she had made a rangoli, a traditional pattern made of rice and coloured powders or sand, on the floor of her home and had baked traditional Indian sweets for the occasion.

“Every holiday or festival in India is marked by its unique festivities and mithai [sweets]. This year, I made gujjia, which is deep-fried dough with sugar and other condiments,” she said.

Following in the footsteps of friends and family in India, Mrs Patel said her family will forgo the use of fireworks to help protect the environment.

Indian restaurants are also celebrating the festival, creating special delicacies for Diwali.

“I make a lot of mithai for Diwali. We have a lot of takeaway orders and a huge party in our dining hall today,” said Abdul Riaz, an Indian chef at a local bakery in Jeddah.

Alfiya Mansour, an Indian national who has been living in the kingdom for nine years, said she is pleasantly surprised by changes to Saudi Arabia's laws allowing for a more open celebration of her religion.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's Vision 2030 has allowed religious and other festivals to be celebrated more openly by the kingdom's diverse population.

“We love celebrating the Indian festivals like Holi — the festival of colours — and Diwali, where we dress up in Indian clothes and dance to Indian music,” says Nada Mustafa, a South African resident of the kingdom.

“We had an official Holi run this year and previously,” she said.

“We participated in the run at Riyadh Season for the celebrations, where we danced to Bollywood songs with people from all nationalities, including young Saudis. I love the new changes and really enjoy celebrating all our traditional festivals with my Arab friends.”

Updated: November 4th 2021, 4:47 PM