South African Indians splurge on Diwali lights, luxuries

October 27th, 2008 - 11:43 am ICT by IANS  

Johannesburg, Oct 27 (IANS) The Diwali spirit seems to have survived the global financial crisis here with South African Indians splurging on luxury sweets, lamps and gifts and getting together to celebrate the festival of lights. Shopping centres across the country, mainly in Indian dominated areas like Lenasia near Johannesburg and Chatsworth and Phoenix near Durban, were swamped over the weekend by families doing last minute shopping for Diwali, which is officially being marked in South Africa Monday.

North Indians, however, will privately celebrate the festival Tuesday while south Indians settled here will observe the day Monday itself.

The South African Hindu Maha Sabha decided some years ago to recognise a single day for official purposes, alternating each year between the north and south Indian Diwali dates. This was to facilitate discussion with the government to recognise a single day each year as a public holiday for Diwali. Employees and pupils also use this single date to negotiate days off from work or school.

As shoppers piled everything from fancy clay lamps and fireworks to imported sweetmeats and fancy lighting into their cars, shopkeepers, who had expected a downturn, rubbed their hands in glee.

The favourites appeared to be sweetmeats imported from India, many varieties being seen in South Africa for the first time.

Arvind Roopanand, owner of a family chain that is the oldest importer in the country of all things Indian, told IANS from his Durban head office that there had definitely been a change in the Diwali shopping pattern this year.

“Influenced by Bollywood films and the expanding number of television channels from India that are available by satellite, the younger generation, many more wealthy now than their parents were at their age, are splurging on fireworks, sweetmeats clothing and gifts,” Roopanand said.

“They no longer want the same traditional things - diyas must be more than just the plain traditional ones; clothing is influenced by the movie stars, including male kurtas; and busy working women no longer want to slog over hot stoves delicately preparing sweetmeats like their mothers did,” he added.

To meet this demand, Roopanand said they had imported “top-class’ sweetmeats from India, which were selling out fast.

Lighting sellers also reported increased demand for decorative kits, either for self-installation or more elaborate ones to be fitted out by an electrician.

In one case, a Chatsworth businessman, Kuben Naidoo, paid more than 4,000 rands (over $350) to light up the outside of his home for Diwali. Many other Indians across the country have done similar things to brighten their neighbourhood.

Thousands of people have also been attending huge Diwali gatherings arranged by community organisations, some bolstered by sponsorships from huge national and Indian companies.

Several of them had to be postponed due to heavy seasonal rains, which organisers are hoping will stay away Tuesday evening, when the Rameshwar Mandir in Lenasia, south of here, plays host to Bollywood stars Celina Jaitley, Upen Patel and Kim Sharma.

The actors have been brought here to help celebrate Diwali in a Bollywood tradition started a few years ago by the Gupta family, formerly of India and who now run one of the largest computer companies in the region, Sahara Computers.

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