Friday, November 5, 2010

Dubai, city of lights

Happy Diwali
Among the virtues of Dubai is the diversity of nationalities, cultures and religions coexisting in harmony and trying to intermix with local customs and traditions.

There is always something to celebrate. As the Moslem world braces for Eid al-Adha, the Hindu community is today, Friday (November 5), celebrating Diwali and the Christian community is gearing up to Christmas, with shops and supermarkets already packed with crackers, decorations and wrapping paper and the malls soon to be adorned with Christmas trees.

Buildings and villas are more often than not illuminated for one event or another. If it isn't to mark one of the many diverse holy days, then it’s to announce an Emirati wedding. It is the custom in the UAE to decorate the home of the bride and groom with lights to let people know a wedding is either being celebrated or in the offing.

One villa has decorated its gate and front entrance for Diwali...

Another, its balcony
Scores of Dubai villas, flats, buildings and even palm trees currently have lit bulbs dangling on their walls or from their windows because the local Hindu community is celebrating the Festival of Lights, or Diwali. The community marks the occasion by lighting earthen diyas (lamps), decorating houses, discharging firecrackers and inviting loved ones for lavish meals. The illumination of lamps symbolizes the destruction, through knowledge, of all negative forces and evil.

It is said that the Diwali festival began thousands of years ago to observe the end of the harvest season. People lit lamps in thanks, secure in the knowledge that they had food for the year to come.

Diwali is an important five-day festival in Hinduism, Sikhism and Jainism. It falls between mid-October and mid-November and the exact day is decided by the position of the moon. According to the Hindu calendar, Amavasya or “no moon day” is considered as the perfect day to celebrate Diwali.

The first day is called Dhanvantari Triodasi. The second is Narak Chaturdasi, the 14th lunar day (thithi) of the dark fortnight of the month of Kartik and the eve of Diwali when Krishna destroyed the demon Narakasur and made the world free from fear. The third is the actual Diwali, with worship for Lakshmi, symbol of wealth and prosperity and whose blessings are invoked for a good year ahead. On the fourth day of Diwali, Govardhan Puja is performed. The fifth is called Bhratri Dooj, a day dedicated to sisters.

The villa being festooned with wedding fairy lights

Hari and his team at work
On my walks with Habibi Kenzo (see Habibi of Dubai post, Oct. 5) over the past week, I have seen lights being suspended everywhere -- and not only for Diwali. With the weather getting a bit cooler, the wedding season in the Emirate is in full swing and practically every street has a lit up villa.

One house on my route caught my attention. It was being festooned but no workers were in sight to satisfy my curiosity. So I passed by the next morning and the team hanging and positioning the strings of light bulbs was there. Hari, the man in charge, was more than happy to talk to me and explain what the company he works for, Al Salhiya Lighting Center, does.

This residence is ready for the wedding
For a wedding, the houses of both the bride and groom are draped with light bulbs. The luminescence can last for three to 10 days, depending on the affluence of the families of the would-be newlyweds.

Hari told me he considered the villa he was garlanding with fairy light bulbs to be middle-sized. The 250 square meters he needed to cover required about 600 stripes of 12 meters each. It would take his men four days to set up the lot and another four to dismantle.

Even the palm trees get dressed up!

The wedding villa lights up the neighborhood
This particular villa was keeping the illuminated decoration for 10 days. Hari said it would cost the owners between AED 20,000 and AED 25,000 (or about $6,000). No municipality permission was needed for the installation because the fairy lights use very little wattage. He explained that 80 fairy lights were equal to 250 watts or 1 amp.

And the next evening, Hari and his men had finished their work and the whole area around the wedding villa was beautifully illuminated.

I wish a Happy Diwali to my Hindu and Sikh friends and readers. And blessed are those passing by before getting married.

(You can see more pictures here)