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Indian expatriates enjoy the traditional 'Onasadhya' meal in Dubai. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: It is that time of the year when Malayali expatriates living in the UAE come together for a grand celebration of Onam. People from across communities join in the celebrations, irrespective of their religious affiliations.

Onam, in fact, is said to be one of the most secular and social festivals of India as it brings people from different religions and cultures together.

Floral decorations called 'Pookkalam' are an integral part of Onam. Image Credit: Supplied

This year, UAE residents rang in Onam at their residences and outside, with family and close friends. Some hosted the celebrations at home while others booked hotels and restaurants so they could enjoy the traditional Onasadhya meal served on banana leaves.

Dubai-based Indian expatriate Salam Pappinissery, a lawyer and social worker, said more than a million Keralites live in the UAE and everyone celebrated Onam on Friday, August 20. “Onam is a festival that unites everyone irrespective of one’s religion or caste. It is a celebration of the harvest season,” he said.

History of Onam

Onam is celebrated during the first ten days of the Chingam month on the Malayalam calendar, which usually falls in either August or September. It is a time to welcome the harvest festival and the homecoming of the Hindu mythological King Mahabali. It was in Mahabali’s reign when Kerala witnessed a golden period. King Mahabali did not discriminate between his people on the basis of religion or caste. Therefore, the Onam tradition is not exclusive to any religion. The Kerala government made it an official holiday in the 1960s.

How Onam is celebrated in Kerala and in the UAE

“Celebrations include a chenda (drum) performances. Competitions for Pookkalam (floral designs on the floor) are conducted. Traditional performances as well as shows by popular artistes from Kerala are part of the festivities. The highlight of Onam is Onasadhya, a traditional vegetarian feast served on banana leaves,” explained Monica Deepak, 37, an IT application specialist. She and her husband Deepak Asok, a business development manager, hosted the celebrations at their residence in Dubai.

Monica Deepak and her husband Deepak Asok. Image Credit: Supplied

“This time, Onam fell on a weekend. We were lucky that we could invite friends and family over. We made the Onasadhya, which is a great spread of our traditional dishes. My friends and I also made Pookkalam — a floral arrangement to celebrate our festival of harvest and prosperity,” said Monica.

She added that albeit the pandemic, her friends and family did not want to temper down the celebrations. “Although we are going through a very tough time due to the pandemic, Onam is something positive to think about. We did not want to let go the pomp and fervour that comes with it.”

Anjali Jaydeep, 30, a homemaker living in Dubai, added: “Onam reminds me of family, relatives, flowers and happiness. For us, Onam is an emotion that brings out the ‘Malayali’ in us. I miss my family back in India, but Dubai never allows you to be in solitude during Onam.”

Anjali Jaydeep, a homemaker in Dubai, feels that Dubai never allows one to be in solitude during Onam. Image Credit: Supplied

Rajesh, 40, an IT manager in Dubai, said Onam is a time when residents also do up their homes. “It is that time of the year when we clean, redo our homes to welcome the celebrated King of Kerala, Mahabali. The celebration starts with Pookkalam. Besides, it was fun celebrating Onam with friends and family.”

Rajesh with his family. Image Credit: Supplied

Suja Subramanian, 35, a civil engineer, said celebrating Onam in Dubai is no different from how it is observed back home in Kerala. “Dubai is our second home. We have all the facilities to celebrate Onam in full spirit here. For example, there is every ingredient available in UAE — even the vegetables that go into preparing Onasadhya. It is easy to source banana leaves as well. It is not difficult to do the Pookkalam as well as most of the flowers are easily available here. Added to it, having family and friends around adds joy to the celebration,” she said.

Suja Subramanian with her family. Image Credit: Supplied

She and her husband, Midhun Gopinath, 37, a mechanical engineer in Dubai, celebrated the festival with friends on Friday.

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Renjith Daniel enjoys 'Onasadhya'. Image Credit: Supplied

Renjith Daniel, 37, an electrical engineer said: “For me, Onam is all about socialising with friends, being happy around them and enjoying some great traditional food. The festival creates lasting memories for us. Onam usually brings back a whole lot of childhood memories. Thanks to the celebrations here with friends, we don’t miss home that much.”