From gold coins to ‘gulabaroons’: Diwali sparks shift in Australia’s gift industry

  • Diwali, the Indian subcontinent’s festival of light, takes place on 24 October
  • Local entrepreneurs are reinvigorating the contemporary Diwali gift market
  • Gold and silver coins, grazing boxes and handcrafted lamps are some of the in-demand gifts
Diwali, Deepavali, Bandi Chhor Diwas and Tihar are the Indian subcontinent’s traditional festivals of lights, which have woven themselves into Australia’s multicultural tapestry.
This year, with people jolted out of their pandemic inertia, the celebrations promise an intriguing blend of new and old.
According to the 2021 Australian Census, Indian migrants have become the country’s second-largest group of overseas-born residents, standing at over 721,000.
Major festivals like Diwali are an opportunity for the fast-growing diaspora to embrace tradition and open their cultural doors to the wider community.
Since Diwali is all about sharing and connecting with friends and family, exchanging gifts is a big part of the celebration.

This year’s festivities is seeing an unleashing of creativity.

Sweet surprises

Diwali is synonymous with food, in particular sweets, which tend to be bought by the kilogram and exchanged as gifts.

For Sanjeev Arora and Shweta Tangri Arora, the couple behind the Foodie Wok gifting service, this Diwali is a chance to honour tradition but also play around with contemporary flavours and presentation.

Gulab jamun meets macaron to make ‘gulabaroon’ and the traditional carrot halwa gets a trifle twist. Credit: Supplied/Foodie Wok

To welcome the occasion, they have created a range of Indian-inspired grazing boxes whose contents don’t necessarily adhere to conventions.

Among the sweets on offer are the ‘gulabaroon’, which combines gulab jamun (Indian dessert of fried dough balls) with macarons, while other treats fuse besan laddu and mithai (traditional Indian sweets) with truffles.

“It’s a passion project for us, we identified a gap from an Indian perspective in the Australian market and started with grazing boxes that were well received,” says Ms Tangri Arora, who is an accountant by profession and does food styling for the Foodie wok.

We do not weigh every sweet in kilograms [as is tradition], we avoid artificial sugar, preservatives, food colours, additives and use raw sugar to cook our sweets.

Shweta Tangri Arora

When the couple migrated to Australia 20 years ago they were hard-pressed to even find a diya (traditional clay lamp) to celebrate Diwali.

Today they are busy preparing hundreds of sweet boxes and hampers for corporate clients who wish to gift them to their employees, as is the Diwali tradition ‘back home’.

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Sanjeev Arora and Shweta Tangri Arora, the couple behind the ‘gulabaroons’. Supplied by the Foodie Wok.

“I have orders from Australian employers who wish to treat their Indian staff with Diwali gifts and Indian corporate heads who want to celebrate with their non-Indian teams. The demand has grown exponentially,” says Mr Arora.

Gold standard

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For many people celebrating Diwali, it’s an auspicious time to buy gold, which is considered a symbol of wealth, hope and luck.

Janie Simpson is the managing director of ABC Bullion, Australia’s largest independent precious metals dealer.
Ahead of Diwali, it limited-edition gold and silver coins embossed with Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth and prosperity.

Ms Simpson says there has been strong demand for the coins, not only from the Indian diaspora but from others who are buying them as collectibles and for investment purposes.

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ABC Bullion launched unique Diwali-themed coins to commemorate the anniversary of India’s 75th Independence and celebrate Diwali. Supplied by ABC Bullion. Credit: Fine Jewellery Images

“I have been working with ABC Bullion for 27 years,” she tells SBS Hindi. “It was different 27 years ago when the community was a lot smaller but, since that time, the Indian community has grown as shown in the census figures from last year.”

Our Indian clientele is becoming more sophisticated, they know what they want and are actually a growing part of our client base.

Janie Simpson, managing director of ABC Bullion

According to Ms Simpson, an initial allocation of 10,000 silver and 1,000 gold coins sold out instantly after a soft launch to distributors, so a re-release was required.
“This particular Lakshmi coin that we have produced this year is part of a series that we hope to produce annually and work with this diaspora to produce a coin each year, so we can commemorate and celebrate with the Indian community the beautiful Diwali festival,” says Ms Simpson.
Neil Vance is the general manager of minted products at the Perth Mint, which has been producing Diwali-themed medallions for five years.
“We used to see long lines from the Indian community a couple of days before Diwali, so we decided to release specific medallions that we sell locally and around the world,” Mr Vance explains.
“The medallions have been very popular the last few years, [so] this year we have a one-off silver medallion that is gold plated and features Ganesh on one side and Lakshmi on the other.”

This year Mr Vance says they are expecting the Sunday before Diwali to be especially busy, so the Perth Mint is setting up a click-and-collect option, enabling special bullion trading to cater to the community that wishes to buy gold that day.

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The Perth Mint has created Diwali-themed medallions with culturally appropriate design and packaging. Credit: Supplied/Perth Mint

According to Mr Vance, the demand for gold grew during the pandemic. In each of the last few years, they have sold about 3,000 Diwali medallions.

Interestingly, according to Mr Vance, the Perth Mint has had a sustained boom in precious metals in both gold and silver since April 2020. It has been driven by the uncertainty around the pandemic and other economic factors such as inflation, government debt and market trends.

He says the medallions do well in countries that have a strong, large Indian community, with the Perth Mint also distributing them to the US, Germany and Singapore.

Small business successes and stumbling blocks

It’s not just large organisations that are benefitting from this increasingly lucrative festival.
Jyotsna Takle, from artbyjyotsna, has been able to turn her hobby into a commercial success with the creation of Diwali lanterns, also called kandil.
Her paper lantern-making classes are popular among students and she says more parents are showing interest in ensuring their children stay connected to their culture.

A collage of Diwali lanterns created by Jyotsna Takle and her students. Credit: Supplied

While her original lamp design was made of bamboo, Ms Takle says sourcing the material in Australia increased the cost, so she had to find a cheaper alternative.

Now she is busy filling orders and teaching students how to make these colourful lanterns.
Her handmade acrylic rangoli designs are also in demand from people who want the aesthetic without the mess of coloured powders.
Vaishali Hingmire, from Clay by Vai, is also wary of the cost of manufacturing gifts in Australia as opposed to getting them imported from India.
In the past, she has created Diwali lights, tea light holders and other ceramics, but claims it is difficult to keep the cost low if products are sourced locally.

Using food-safe products, good quality clay, glazes and other materials increases the overall cost and thus affects the demand, particularly when the market has been inundated with cheaper alternatives imported from India.

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Handmade items created by Vaishali Hingmire as part of her previous year’s Diwali collection. Credit: Supplied

However, according to Ms Hingmire, there is always demand from those who value good quality and appreciate the skill, time and effort that goes into handcrafted items.

The market, meanwhile, is flooded with everything that spells Diwali from lamps and puja (prayer) items to sweets and hampers.
Murali Metlapalli, the CEO of Indya Foods Pty Ltd, says that year on year there has been an increase in the choice of products that are sourced from India.
“We have got many new products in our retail stores this year and the Diwali range generally does very well. There are also plenty of ritual-based foods that are prepared during this time and preparation varies from region to region so we try to stock up on all the ingredients,” says Mr Metlapalli.

“People are increasingly getting health-conscious so they are looking for healthier alternatives, even in gifts, and they are willing to spend on good quality,” he adds.

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