With so many Indians in Hong Kong, celebrating Diwali in the city can be a unique, larger-than-life experience. We tell you the history and customs of this Hindu festival of lights.
It’s hard not to know about Diwali if you live in Hong Kong. For one, there are plenty of Indians here – from the well-settled Sindhis and Parsis (who have been here for a couple of generations) to the finance and computer science professionals (who are here as expats for a short stint). The other reason you may know a thing or two about Diwali is thanks to the popularity of Hindi films and their depiction of the festival. And of course, Hongkongers don’t need a reason to dress up and party, so chances are that you have been to (or been invited to) some of the parties happening across the city (though they are likely to be smaller affairs this year, they will still be spectacular)! So how can and should you celebrate this bright and beautiful festival? Here’s the Sassy Mama guide to celebrating Diwali in Hong Kong.
Editor’s Note: The situation in Hong Kong regarding closures and restrictions on opening hours due to the coronavirus is constantly evolving. Many businesses are taking extra precautions, but please make sure you follow the latest government advice and stay home if you have recently travelled overseas, have interacted with anyone who has been away, or display any symptoms.
Diwali: The Background Of The Festival Of Lights
Diwali or Deepavali is known as the festival of lights and celebrates the triumph of good over evil. Legend has it that Lord Rama returned home after defeating the demon-king Ravana (perfectly timed with the end of a long period of exile imposed by his evil stepmother). The Diwali celebration lasts five days. This year, it’s from Tuesday, 2 to Saturday, 6 November 2021. The first day is Dhanteras, when businesses in India mark the first day of their financial year. The second day is Chotti Diwali (small Diwali) that’s a lead up to the big celebration the following day. Thursday, 4 November is Diwali, the big daddy of Hindu celebrations almost everywhere in India. On this day, families worship Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth and have a pooja (prayer ceremony) in her honour. The fourth day has more low-key celebrations and is celebrated in different ways in various parts of India – it’s also considered the first day of the Indian New Year. The last day is Bhai Dooj, which is about the special brother-sister relationship. In all, it’s five days of partying, prayer, being with family and friends, eating well, dressing up and gifting.
Each family has its own traditions, some call friends over for a game of poker and others love a Bollywood movie marathon. Follow our list below and maybe you can create your own Diwali traditions! But plan wisely – tradition says that whatever you are doing on the first day of the New Year is an indication of how you’ll spend the next 12 months!
Teaching Kids About Diwali
If you want to teach your kids more about Diwali, read them “Amma, Tell Me About Diwali” from the “Amma, Tell Me” series by Hong Kong-based author, Bhakti Mathur. These books are part of the library in almost all international schools in the city and narrate the stories of Indian mythology very easily to young learners.
Diwali In Hong Kong: Dining Deals And Sweet Boxes
Food and Indian festivals go hand-in-hand…if food isn’t the first thing that springs to mind when Diwali is mentioned, it must surely be the second! So start prepping for the festivities by ordering some special sweet boxes and savoury treats. You can also find out about special Diwali food deliveries and dining-in menus here.
Diwali Menus In Hong Kong
New Punjab Club
For Diwali, Black Sheep is launching Chef Palash Dreams of Diwali. Chef Palash of New Punjab Club has curated two Diwali delivery menus – Dhamaka ($558 per person) and the Dhanlakshmi ($478 per person), available for minimum parties of five or groups up to 20. These menus will be available from Thursday, 28 October to Saturday, 6 November 2021.
If you are in need of something sweet or a small token to gift those you love most, guests can purchase Chef Palash’s Mithai Box of Sweet Dreams ($488 per box of 500gms).
Chaiwala has a special Diwali menu during the week of Diwali. The Diwali menu is at $520 per person, with an additional $240 for a 2-hour free-flow. Expect pani puri, Bombay fried chicken, tandoori lamb chops and a whole lot more.
After a day of lighting diyas and dressing up with the kids, leave them at home and head to Chaat at Rosewood Hong Kong for a Diwali date night dinner. Available for one night only on Diwali, Thursday, 4 November, this elaborate tasting menu includes tangy Dhokla Ki Chaat starters, lobster rasam (soup) and the delicious Tandoori kebab platter and is $1,288 per guest.
Of course, if you and your family are fans of Indian food, you can expect a lot of specials throughout November at the other usual favourites too, including Bombay Dreams, Jashan, Saravana Bhavan and Rajasthan Rifles (Rajasthan Rifles will also have a one-night Diwali special).
Diwali Sweets In Hong Kong
Gaylord And Gunpowder
The Mayfare group is also offering freshly-boxed Diwali sweets at both of its Indian restaurants, Gaylord and Gunpowder. These will be available from Thursday, 28 October to Thursday, 4 November 2021. Sweet boxes are priced between $150 and $350.
Mid-levels Mamas can now place orders for their Diwali sweets at this Caine Road grocery store. Since DESI Bazaar opened on Caine Road it’s become a firm favourite amongst the Indian community (and other expats too!) for both its range of products and excellent customer service.
This store is a good place to stock up on everything you need for Diwali, from boxes of the ever-popular kaju katli (sweet cashew nut paste) to the mixed mithai boxes, as well as beautifully decorated thalis (plates) and diyas (lamps). Sweet boxes will be available starting next week.
Diwali In Hong Kong: Where To Buy Diyas, Candles And Lights
Most Indian stores across Hong Kong stock diyas (clay lamps) almost all year round. You can choose the plain ones and paint them with your kids for an easy and fun DIY craft exercise, or buy fancier decorative pieces. The good news is, these can be reused year on year. Check what’s available online or in-store at StarMart, You Store, Shop Easy and SpiceBox Organics. You can also make the trek up to the infamous Chungking Mansions to get a large stock of diyas from the stores there. But if that proves too much of a mission, you can always depend on places like The Candle Company or Candle Up to stock up on candles instead. Many of them are shaped like diyas and fit in perfectly well with the festival of lights. You can also find electric tea lights or fairy lights that you can put up around Diwali and keep on till Christmas.
Chungking Mansions, 36-44 Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, Hong Kong
Diwali In Hong Kong: Where To Buy Ethnic Indian Wear And Dresses
Now that we have checked off food and lights, let’s get you dressed for Diwali! You may not have many occasions to feel like an Indian Maharani, but this is one time of the year when too much bling feels just about right!
We are certainly not short of options in Hong Kong. If you are looking for a statement piece, look at Sanskrit where viewings are by appointment only. If you want something equally dazzling (both in detail and price!) but can wear even while mix-and-matching a Western look, check out Tabla. If you want something that you can wear not just on Diwali but also at your Indian best friend’s wedding, head to Kanta Trading Company or Nanak Clothes House. Be prepared to be dazzled by the collection of beautiful saris, lehengas and kurtas in rainbow shades. You will not want to leave any of the stores or sites without putting something into your basket (even more so, for your children!). If you are a fan of the graceful Indian saree, you must check the gorgeous collection at Ethnica. This mama-run venture has collected the finest hand-woven sarees from all parts of India and is sure to impress. Want to order from India? Our Indian Sassy Mama Editor loves the kids clothes from Little Muffet and the beautiful sarees and blouses from Suta (our lovely That Mama Bhakti Mathur is often seen looking gorgeous in sarees and blouses from Suta).
Diwali In Hong Kong: Gifts And Shopping At Diwali Bazaars
Diwali is a great time for gifting. Almost all the items mentioned above make for beautiful festive presents. It’s common to take sweet boxes and collections of dried fruits and nuts for friends, neighbours and colleagues. Candles and home decor items also make an excellent gifting choice. Other standard Diwali gifts include decorative boxes and home accessories. Serving platters, bowls and porcelain items to gift to your host if you are invited to a Diwali get-together is also a regular pastime. You don’t always need to look for Indian or India-inspired gifts, but if you are an uncle or aunt giving a Diwali present to the little ones in the family, ethnic wear is always a good idea (Sassy Mama tip: Even if you are not Indian, if you are close friends of the family, you will become an Uncle or Auntie by default!). For those near and dear to you, jewellery, gold and silver (often in form of coins with the images of Gods and Goddesses) are also good choices.
If you are not sure where to shop for any of these gift items, it’s always a good idea to keep an eye out for Diwali bazaars that pop up in Hong Kong from October every year. It’s also quite common to find Indian mumtrepreneurs advertising their hampers and gift items at this time of the year. If you haven’t done your shopping yet, you could make your way to GlamFest, a festive edition of the reputed Kowloon Bazaar on Thursday, 21 October 2021 at Kowloon Shangri-la Hotel. The organisers promise that they will cater to everyone’s resort, holiday and upcoming festive shopping requirements with bespoke fine jewellery, fashion designer Indian wear, wines, accessories and more.
Editor’s note: This post was originally written by Simran on 29, October 2013 and updated by Anita Balagopalan in October 2021.