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UAE: After two muted years, Holi makes a colourful comeback post-pandemic

Indian expatriate families are gearing up to head out and celebrate this year



Holika at India Club, Dubai. Photo: Supplied
Holika at India Club, Dubai. Photo: Supplied
by

Dhanusha Gokulan

Published: Thu 17 Mar 2022, 9:01 PM

Last updated: Tue 22 Mar 2022, 1:41 PM

Holi, the Indian festival of colours, heralds spring's arrival and is usually celebrated by people dousing each other in colours.

However, since 2020, the Covid pandemic has turned the festival into a strictly family-only affair with people adorning each other's foreheads with vermillion as a 'token of celebration'.

But this year, Holi celebrations are back with a bang for UAE residents, as the easing of Covid restrictions mean they can run riot in the colours of the festival.

Holi signifies the triumph of good over evil, and this year it could very well mean the triumph of humans over Covid. No wonder expatriate families, community groups, and event organisers are going big with celebrations this year. From carnivals to food festivals to Holi parties on the beach, the festival of colours is making a grand comeback this year.

From carnivals to food festivals to Holi parties on the beach, Holi is making a grand comeback in 2022.

Holi celebration at India Club, Dubai. Photo: Supplied
Holi celebration at India Club, Dubai. Photo: Supplied

What is Holi, and why is it celebrated?

The ancient Hindu festival celebrates the arrival of spring, the end of winter, and the blossoming of love. It is a festive day for many to meet others, play and laugh, forget and forgive, and repair broken relationships, said Gopal Kokani, general manager of the Bur Dubai Gurudarbar Sindhi Temple.

"People play with cool colours and cool water since it ushers the end of the winter season," he said.

According to Hindu mythology, the celebration of Holi also marks the deity Lord Vishnu's triumph over King Hiranyakashipu, who killed anyone who disobeyed him or worshipped other Gods, explained Kokani.

"Celebrations start on the night before Holi with a Holika Dahan where people gather, perform religious rituals in front of the bonfire," he said. People pray that their internal evil is destroyed the way Holika, the sister of the demon king Hiranyakashipu, was killed in the fire, stated Kokani.

The Sindhi Guru Darbar Temple in Bur Dubai is one of the most famous religious sites for Hindus in Dubai and is visited by several hundreds of people every day and thousands during special occasions.

Gopal Kokani. Photo: Supplied
Gopal Kokani. Photo: Supplied

The Holika at Hindu temple at the Hindu temple was lit Thursday at 5 pm. "We usually never have large-scale celebrations. People gather outside the Krishna temple and have some small festivities," he said.

"The celebrations were mostly symbolic this and on a very small scale as we believe Covid is yet far from over. It was done to have the internal satisfaction that we celebrated Holi. Our duty towards the government of UAE to eradicate Covid remains strong," explained Kokani.

What are families doing?

Indian expatriate families in the UAE are gearing up to head out and get colourful this year. Madhulika Chatterjee, a Dubai-based freelancer, said that though she had a low-key celebration with her friends last year, going big with Holi festivities is 'confusing'.

Madhulika Chatterjee celebrating Holi with her family and friends. Photo: Supplied
Madhulika Chatterjee celebrating Holi with her family and friends. Photo: Supplied

"I will be back home in India with my family this year. Many places have commercial parties; however, we are all confused as we are not sure if Covid is entirely gone," she said.

"Moreover, the CBSE board examinations are just around the corner, and many families have children who will attempt the examinations here," Madhulika added.

Dubai-based freelancer Madhulika Chatterjee celebrating Holi. Photo: Supplied
Dubai-based freelancer Madhulika Chatterjee celebrating Holi. Photo: Supplied

A Bengali- native, Madhulika grew up in Mumbai. "My mum would make Malpua (a sweet dish) with Maharashtrian flavours and other savouries that are the essence of the festival. The celebrations back home are very lively. We used to dunk people into an entire water tank filled with colour. We are trying to replicate the same celebrations here."

Chatterjee said her friends and family plan a pot-luck dinner party for Holi celebrations this year.

Angshuman Borthakur, an Assamese – native and sales professional, said he had been a UAE resident for 11 years. "On Sunday, we are going to the Holi celebrations, which are taking place at the Wonderland Theme and Waterpark. My son is four-years-old, and this is his first Holi," he said.

Angshuman Borthakur with his wife. Photo: Supplied
Angshuman Borthakur with his wife. Photo: Supplied

Borthakur said he missed celebrating Holi over the past two years. "We didn't do anything. Back home, we would never miss a single Holi celebration. We used even to throw raw eggs on our friends as a joke. The Covid situation easing in the UAE is a huge boon for the expatriate community wishing to enjoy the festival this time," said Borthakur.

Residents such as Debajit Brahmachary, another Assam-native, are very enthusiastic about the upcoming festival. The family is planning a celebratory event at their home in Abu Dhabi.

Debajit Brahmachary with his family celebrating Holi. Photo: Supplied
Debajit Brahmachary with his family celebrating Holi. Photo: Supplied

"Since it's the weekend, we were thinking of organising a pool party with some friends. We usually chip in for the food and get some traditional Holi food and delicacies," said Brahmachary.

Debajit Brahmachary with his family and friends. Photo: Supplied
Debajit Brahmachary with his family and friends. Photo: Supplied

He said, "Back home, we would also play mud Holi where instead of colours, we would throw mud on friends and family. Our parents would do a small puja at home. Like many families, we too try and replicate things that our loved ones would do back home."

Commercial activities get new life

This year, there is no shortage of commercial activities in the UAE. Siddharth Vyas, the marketing manager at the India Club in Dubai, said the club is organising a Holi celebration at its premises for the first time in two years on Thursday.

"This is the first Holi event post-pandemic. The festivities will begin at 8 pm and conclude at 10.30 pm."

He added, "We expect approximately 500-600 people to participate. We have organised a Holika burning event followed by a dance party. Several mouthwatering delicacies associated with Holi would also be served."

Holika at India Club, Dubai. Photo: Supplied
Holika at India Club, Dubai. Photo: Supplied

The event is free for club members. Vyas added, "Pre-pandemic, the number of visitors for our Holi celebrations usually cross 1,000 and more. While the more traditional festivities were usually organised at the Hindu temple in Bur Dubai, the festivities at India Club are geared towards entertainment."

A considerable boom is also being witnessed in the retail sector. Kamal Vachani, the group director and partner at Al Maya Group, said, "All our supermarkets and shops are decked with colours and other items used in the Holi festival. We also have different kinds of sweets which are flown in from India. People began buying the products last week, and the demand has been high compared to the last two years."

Since the government relaxed regulations, he said that community members have increased confidence to celebrate this year. "I am looking forward to a very positive Holi this year," he said.

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Celebration in Abu Dhabi

Photo: Supplied
Photo: Supplied

The Indian Business and Professional Group, Abu Dhabi, also celebrated the festival of colour with great aplomb.

The event boasted of a unique theme by incorporating a wedding setup into the prevalent theme of Holi.

A special mandap (enclosure) photo booth was set up where the crowd enjoyed taking photographs with their loved ones reliving the wedding vibe.

Padmanabha Acharya, president of IBPG said, “UAE is a melting pot of all cultures and a role model of tolerance in the world. IBPG is proud to organise Holi along with a number of prominent associations in the UAE.”

Top 3 spots UAE residents can plan their Holi celebrations in the UAE

Holi at Dhaba Lane

Dhaba Lane is a home-grown Punjabi restaurant that celebrates the tradition of Indian Dhabas and is offering complimentary Thandai Shots and Gujiyas on March 19, all day. Savour the Dhaba Style delicacies at a popular restaurant and enjoy complimentary Holi offerings. Gujiyas are available for home deliveries as well.

Holi at Ras Al Khaimah

Mark Holi with friends and family at BM Beach Resort in Ras Al Khaimah on March 19. The 500-meter beach gives visitors access to Al Marjah island, enjoys rain dance, tucks into food and drink from the kiosks, and is entertained by beats from famous Indian DJs.

Holi Festival of Colours

Holi Sundowner will take place on March 20 at JA Sports Centre and Shooting Club, Jebel Ali, Dubai. The celebration begins from sunrise to sunset, with gates opening at 10 am. An incredible line-up of performers includes DJ Hani, Sib, Tushar, Buddha, Emwee, Lathish, Mad Max, Varun Sharma, and Atul.


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