5 Indian Traditions that Make the UAE Brighter
Of all the traditions followed in India, Diwali (the Festival of Lights) is perhaps the most anticipated and revered. This Hindi celebration is observed widely by Hindus, Sikhs, and Buddhists in Indian communities around the world and happens toward the end of the year.
In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where Indian nationals make up almost 40% of the entire population (the UAE’s population is composed of about 89% expats and 11% Emiratis), Diwali — as well as many other Indian cultures and traditions — is a visible part of the country’s adopted cultural identity.
Through a trade relationship held with Islamic empires dating back several centuries and an economic partnership agreement just signed this year, ties between India and the UAE have always been strong (Indeed, did you know that the Indian rupee was considered legal tender in the region until 1966?).
Not only have Indians significantly strengthened Dubai’s workforce, their unique customs, culinary and cultural contributions (especially in the arts and music scenes) have left a strong mark on the local culture in the UAE.
Renowned for flavorful cuisine, dazzling festivals, colorful traditional clothing, and Bollywood (to name only a few!), Indian culture is as intricate, beautiful, and complex as the people themselves.
To learn more about Indian beliefs, customs, and traditions, check out our curated list below.
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Greetings and Language
How we communicate says a lot about who we are as a people.
Many yoga practitioners around the world would be familiar with the Indian greeting of “Namaste” (“I bow to the divine in you”), which is a respectful way of saying hello, goodbye, and even thank you. This is accompanied by a slight bow of the head, with the hands in prayer pose and held in front of the chest, fingers pointing upward. “Namaskar,” “Namaskaram,” “Nomoskar,” and “Nomoshte” are some variants of “Namaste.”
Image credit: Kairali Ayurveda Vaidhya Madom/Facebook
After the COVID-19 pandemic, many people all over the world have chosen no-contact or less-contact methods of greeting others, such as the bow and the fist-bump.
Another respectful Indian salutation used in the Uttar Pradesh and Bihar states is “Pranam” (“bowing forward’), and in the Sikh community living in Punjab, they like to say “Sat Sri Akaal” (roughly translated as “God is the Truth”). It is part of a complete phrase used in Sikh temples and religious processions.
Another popular greeting in India is the Sanskrit verse “Atithi devo bhava” (“The guest is equivalent to god”), which highlights the reverence with which Indians treat their guests.
Meanwhile, Muslims may greet each other with “Salaam” (“Peace”), along with a bow or even a handshake.
Image credit: Garnier Men India
In terms of what’s appropriate in Indian culture, waiting for a woman to offer her hand first is customary, and hugs and kisses are saved for closer relationships. When greeting a group of people, Indians address the most senior person first (as a sign of respect, some even touch the ground at the older person’s feet or the feet themselves).
Touching elders’ feet is an Indian tradition showing respect.
Image credit: madinindia.in/Facebook
When it comes to language, the honorific suffix “-ji” is often added onto a first name, also to show respect (for example, someone named Anya would become Anya-ji). With a large part of its vocabulary handed down from Sanskrit and Persian, Hindi was also influenced by Arabic.
Interestingly, there are shared words and word similarities in both languages, such as “kitaab” (“book”). Check it out in Arabic and in Hindi. Meanwhile, the word for “law” in Arabic is “qanoon,” while in Hindi it is “kaanoon” (with the same pronunciation). Very interesting indeed!
If you’re interested in learning Hindi or Urdu (of all official languages spoken in the UAE, Indian languages are among the most widely spoken), these are highly recommended programs for adults and children alike:
You can also check online at these Dubai-based learning sites:
A list of traditions followed in India would not be complete without a mention of their amazing and colorful festivals, which are steeped in Indian beliefs and customs and include various religions (like Hinduism, Islam and Buddhism), arts, and different aspects of culture.
Holi, the Festival of Colors!
Image credit: HOLI Festival - 2017
India as a culturally rich nation observes hundreds of festivals year-round. Families, friends, and communities get together to celebrate wholeheartedly with music, rituals, dancing, and feasting. Well-known Indian festivals and Hindu holidays are Diwali (the Festival of Lights), Holi (the Festival of Colors), and Makar Sankranti (dedicated to the solar being Surya, with the significance of new beginnings).
Diwali, the Festival of Lights.
Image credit: Aman Trivedi/Facebook
Muslims celebrate Eid al-Fitr (Holiday of Breaking the Fast) and Eid al-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice); Christians have Good Friday, Easter, and Christmas; Buddhists observe Vesak (the birthday of Buddha); Sikhs have Vaisakhi (a celebration of spring harvest); and Jains celebrate Mahavir Jayanti (Mahavir’s birthday). And there are many more!
Vesak being celebrated in Dubai.
Image credit: Amila Ranaweera/Facebook
In the UAE, many Indian festivals and traditions are celebrated by Indians and non-Indians alike who wish to get in on the spirit of the holiday.
The 2022 Dubai celebrations for the Diwali and Holi festivals were epic, with incredible shows, displays, bazaars, and feasts for all to partake in. These holidays, like many other Indian traditions, can be observed and enjoyed by many people from different backgrounds and is the perfect time to form strong bonds with family and friends.
For upcoming schedules of Indian holidays and observances as well as coming events in the UAE, stay tuned to these sites:
Music and Dance
Music and dancing are integral parts of Indian cultural tradition, adding another layer to this already very colorful culture.
Beautiful Indian dancing.
Image credit: Indian Weddings in South Africa Facebook
Indian music is generally known for its love affair with love; many songs are emotional love ballads (there are some amazing song choices for your next Indian karaoke night, if you’ve got the vocals!). Indian music is composed of different genres, but some of the most popular include Indian classical music (Carnathic and Hindustani), Indian folk music, and Indian pop music (thanks to the rise and popularity of Bollywood!).
Classical dance in India is extremely diverse, and different dance forms hail from different parts of the country.
There are eight classical Indian dances mentioned in the Natya Shastra (a Sanskrit text on the performing arts): Bharatnatyam from Tamil Nadu; Kathakali from Kerala; Kathak from North, West and Central India; Mohiniyattam from Kerala; Kuchipudi from Andhra Pradesh; Oddisi from Odisha; Manipuri from Manipur; and Sattriya from Assam.
Image credit: Innee Singh/Facebook
When it comes to modern Indian dancing, Bollywood easily comes to mind. No one does a flash mob dance quite like Bollywood (and no one does gorgeous dance outfits like them, too)! For some of the best Bollywood dance films to binge (think the likes of Street Dancer and Aaja Nachle), check out this link.
If you’re really serious about Indian dancing and think you might want to compete (or know someone who would like to), check out the upcoming event India’s International Dance Competition, which is scheduled for January 28, 2023 in Dubai.
Upcoming Indian dance competition.
Image credit: Dubai Calendar
Don’t miss it! Register for the dance contest here!
For those who are keen on brushing up on their Indian dancing skills, these dance studios in the UAE offer classes for kids to adults:
Nisha Dance Centre offers Bollywood dance classes and wedding choreography.
Nrityanjali Dance Company Dubai offers Kathak and Bharatnatyam Bollywood dance classes.
Off the Hook Dance Club offers Bollywood dance classes for all ages.
Mad about Dance Studio offers Bollywood freestyle dance classes.
Traditional Indian clothing is a feast for the eyes, with its vibrant colors and fine handiwork ranging from embroidery to other detailed embellishments.
Indian men and women in colorful clothing.
Image credit: Stephane Zhang/Facebook
Besides being fashionable, clothing and design depended on many factors, including the weather and the Indian culture and traditions of the region.
Traditional clothing in India, like the sari worn by women, has always covered the body. The kurta-pyjama and the more formal sherwani for Indian men also cover the body. But what started out as simple garments (saris, dhotis, and gamchas, to name a few) **were later embellished to become the flamboyant, colorful, and intricate outfits we see today.
A blue-checkered gamcha.
Image credit: ঝুড়ি-Jhuri/Facebook
A beautifully-decorated dhoti.
Image credit: Chiranjit Shaan
Festive and important Indian events such as weddings, festivals, and rituals often require guests to get dressed up to the nines, and some of the outfits are absolutely spectacular. Traditions followed in India dictate that the clothing be special and showcase talent and skills passed down from one generation to another, and fine fabrics, techniques and embellishments are also put on show.
An Indian bride looking radiant on her wedding day.
Image credit: Maharani Weddings/Facebook
To shop for beautiful Indian clothing in the UAE, you might want to pay these stores a visit:
Wonder Range - This clothing store offers Indian and Pakistani designs that are both classic and modern, mostly for women.
Neeru’s Emporio - This shop is known for their wide variety of embellished and intricate Indian clothing, especially for occasions like weddings.
Fabindia - With clothing for the whole family, this is India’s largest private platform for traditionally made products, with skills and processes handed down through the generations.
We think the entire world can agree on this one — one of the most-appreciated aspects of Indian culture and tradition has got to be its incredible cuisine.
With every area in the country boasting its own special ingredient, method, or dish, Indian cuisine is bold, flavorful, and versatile. And with its many veggie choices, particularly in the Gujarat and Rajasthan regions, vegetarians get to eat heartily, too!
Traditional Indian cuisine, with vegetarian and vegan options available.
Image credit: Rasoi Ghar
Meat lovers will enjoy Bengali, Mughlai, North Indian, and Punjabi cuisine, and seafood aficionados must visit Kerala in South India, where fish dishes reign supreme.
In Indian cuisine, you can always count on the freshest of ingredients, especially many herbs and spices that not only boost flavor, they add color and have health benefits, too.
Delicious Indian fare at Mint Leaf Dubai.
Image credit: Mint Leaf Dubai
Early traditions followed in India (and other parts of South and Southeast Asia) dictated that people eat with their hands, which aids in digestion as it means one eats more slowly. It also means one can test the temperature of the food prior to eating, ensuring an optimal feasting experience.
It is very important to wash one’s hands thoroughly with soap and water before and after the meal and to eat only with your right hand, as the left is considered to be dirty.
Traditional method of eating with the right hand.
Image credit: Cinegupshup
Thanks to the history of kinship and trade between India and the UAE, many traditions have been shared between the two countries. When it comes to the food, the Indian influence in the cuisine of the UAE is apparent, especially in the bold use of spices.
Theses amazing Indian restaurants are a must-try in the UAE:
SpiceKlub - Ranked as one of the best Indian vegetarian restaurants in the UAE, they make use of modern techniques and put a twist on classic flavors.
Indian Restaurant at the Mint Leaf, Dubai - This restaurant, touted as having some of the best Indian food in Dubai, makes use of rich, fresh ingredients, coupled with modern preparation and plating methods.
Indian Organizations in the UAE
Image credit: Indian Ladies Association
If you’d like to learn more about the culture of India, the traditions followed in India as well as Indian beliefs and customs being observed in the UAE, you might want to contact these Abu Dhabi- and Dubai-based organizations: