Dubai: Friends, family and community gatherings are back as expats from various Indian states mark their spring harvest festivals and regional New Years as life returns to normality after the COVID-19 pandemic in the UAE.
Most of the Spring harvest festivals mark Hindu astrological New Year according to the solar calendar. They are celebrated this week with their distinctive traditions by Indian expatriates from Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Assam, Odisha etc. Baisakhi, the harvest festival in Punjab, also commemorates the birth of Khalsa, the Sikh way of living since 1699.
Keralites being the largest group of the 3.4 million-strong Indian expat community in the UAE, Vishu sees the biggest celebrations here, with family get-togethers and community gatherings happening throughout the weekend.
“We have been seeing good demand for all items related to Vishu this week,” said V. Nandakumar, director of Marketing and Communications at Lulu Group. “The Malayali community is starting off a long weekend of celebrations, especially because it is the first festival happening in a post-COVID relaxation mode. For two years, big gatherings were not happening. This time, many community groups and associations are also holding community celebrations,” he pointed out.
Konna and Kani
Ravi Pallath, a product specialist with a pharma company in Dubai, said his family started the Vishu celebrations with the traditional ‘Vishukkani’ at 2am. Kani is a spread of the harvested fruit and vegetables, Konna flower (Cassia fistula or golden rain tree blooms) and everything auspicious that Hindu families from Kerala see first thing on Vishu morning. Vishu traditionally marks the once-in-a-year arrival of the Konna flower to the UAE also.
While Nanadakumar said the Lulu group imported three tonnes of the Konna flower, Sudalaimuthu Perumal, owner of Perumal Flower Stores, said two-and-a-half tonnes of Konna flowers were imported by his group. “We imported a total of 12 tonnes of other flowers also for Vishu,” said Perumal.
Another tradition is to give Vishukaineettam, a gift of cash, to youngsters in the family. “I used the new Dh50 note for Vishukaineettam today. All the kids were happy to get it. We are having the Vishu sadhya (a large spread of vegetarian feast on banana leaf) with relatives. All are wearing new dresses,” Ravi, said.
Sadhya for iftar
Vishu falling on a Friday during Ramadan prompted many community members to have sadhya for iftar. “This is something special that we have noticed this time. Since many people are fasting, some have decided to have sadhya in the evening for iftar. We had opened pre-booking for take-away sadhya. We have given time slots to customers and some people have asked for taking it a bit later around iftar time,” Nandakumar said.
Afi Ahmed, managing director of a travel agencys, said he had ordered sadhya for all his employees for iftar. “Like every office and home, we used to have Vishu sadhya for lunch. Since it is Ramadan this time, I decided to have the feast during iftar at our head office. It was a bit difficult to arrange it, but we managed to book it,” he said.
Two Malayalee siblings studying in a Dubai school also brought out the cover version of the famous Vishu song ‘Kanikaanum Neram’ on YouTube. Saarang Anoop and his younger sister Neelambari Anoop released an instrumental version of the age-old song.
Baisakhi at Gurudwara
Baisakhi was celebrated at the Guru Nanak Darbar Gurudwara in Dubai on Wednesday after a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19. The gurudwara welcomed around 6,000 devotees, adhering to all the safety protocols and permissions from the UAE authorities ensuring everyone’s safety, said Dr Surender Singh Kandhari, chairman of the gurudwara.
“On this auspicious occasion, the Golden Temple model, which was installed in the India Pavilion at Expo 2020 until March 31, was reinstalled at the gurudwara, marking a historic day,” Kandhari said.
Ramkumar Thangaraj, acting Consul General, Indian Consulate in Dubai, Pamela Serena, Mrs Universe Dubai 2021, who is the first Sikh lady to grab the title, also joined in the celebrations.
Kandhari said the Sikh community would come out in big numbers for a bigger celebration of Baisakhi at the Gurudwara on Sunday.
Other New Years
The Bengali community members are marking Poila Baisakh on Friday by observing many rituals.
The Assamese New Year Rongali Bihu is also on Friday. The Assamese community in Dubai is getting together at India Club to celebrate the festival on May 7, said Aswini Borkotoky, a senior member of the community. “We have a lot of young professionals in our community. We will be holding cultural events,” he said.
While the Odiya community marked their New Year as Pana Sankranti with the special drink Bela Pana, Tamilian expats celebrated their New Year, Tamil Puthandu, on Wednesday.
Jayashree Anand, a homemaker in Dubai from Tamil Nadu, said her family followed the traditional rituals of seeing the Kani, gifting cash to children, making mango ‘pachadi’ and having a vegetarian feast on banana leaf to mark the Tamil Puthaandu.
“All the traditions are to herald an abundance of everything that you need throughout the year. Our Puthaandu traditions are more or less similar to that of Vishu,” she added.