UAE: Kerala expats gear up to celebrate Onam

Dhanusha Gokulan (Principal Correspondent)/Dubai Filed on August 20, 2021

(KT/Ryan Lim)

(KT/Ryan Lim)

(KT/Ryan Lim)

Confidence high among Malayalees for harvest festival this year.

After three years of subdued festivities, Keralites in the UAE are all set to celebrate the annual harvest festival of Onam this year amidst Covid-19 regulations.

Onam is a ten-day-long annual harvest festival celebrated in the southern Indian state of Kerala. A major event for Keralites, it is the official festival of the state and includes a wide spectrum of cultural activities. Thiruvonam, which marks the end of Onam celebrations falls on Saturday, August 21.

According to Keralite expatriates in the Emirates, festivities have been subdued for the past three years due to a slew of tragic events including the 2018-19 Kerala floods and the pandemic last year. This year, however, expatriates have said they will be indulging in some form of celebrations, especially with their families.

Drop in Covid-19 numbers, high vaccination rates

A drastic drop in Covid-19 numbers in the UAE, high vaccination rates, and given the fact that Thiruvonam is falling on a weekend this year has given expatriates the confidence to celebrate with their loved ones.

“There are no large community events that are being organised and people are not gathering in large numbers. However, given the footfalls in our retail outlets, it looks like families are planning intimate gatherings at home,” said V Nandakumar, director of marketing and communications at Lulu Group.

Nandakumar said scores of Keralite expatriates have been purchasing Onam paraphernalia from various Lulu retail outlets since Wednesday. “Celebrations were subdued last year. Now that more people are vaccinated and restrictions have been eased, expatriates are more confident. We are seeing a lot of people coming out and shopping for Onam Sadhya, the traditional feast and for a few garments.”

The most integral part of Onam celebrations, Onam Sadhya is a multi-course feast usually served on a banana leaf. “We have imported huge quantities of vegetables, fruits and typical ingredients for sadhya,” he said. “For convenience, we are selling Onam kits for those who want to cook and pre-prepared meals as well. This year, we are selling sadhya meals on our online platforms and have formed a partnership with Zomato as well.”

Mary Antony, a Dubai resident from Kerala told Khaleej Times: “We are not planning any large celebrations. It will be a family-only affair. Every year, we travel to Kerala to my husband’s home to celebrate Onam. We have not been able to do that due to the floods and the pandemic. This year, for the first time, my kids aged seven and four and I will be creating a pookalam - a floral carpet - at home.”

Flower imports impacted due to lack of flights

Another integral part of Onam celebration is the creation of pookalam, a floral arrangement. Sudalaimuthu Perumal, the proprietor of Perumal Flower stores, said he has imported 25 tonnes of flowers for the occasion. However, Perumal said he has found it challenging to meet the massive demands this year due to the shortage of flights from India to the UAE.

Flowers sold in the UAE come from major Indian airports including Trichy, Coimbatore, Bangalore, Calicut, Kochi, Trivandrum, and Chennai. “There is a shortage of flights from India to UAE; we are not getting enough slots to bring these flowers in. We have 19 branches all over the country and demand has increased pretty drastically. Since Covid, Indian families have taken to celebrating all festivals,” he explained.

According to him, as Onam has fallen on a weekend this year the flowers requirements are high. “Furthermore, flower prices have shot up in India. One of our shipments was offloaded from Trichy airport and now that passenger flights have begun, getting slots has become challenging. Also, eight to ten of my staff are still stuck in India,” said Perumal.

Meanwhile, food and beverage outlets all over the country have rolled several offerings for Onam. M One Restaurant in Millennium Place Barsha Heights Hotel is offering an extensive Onam buffet featuring a variety of traditional south Indian dishes for Dh55 per meal. Other restaurants including Calicut Notebook, Salkara, Kerala Kitchen and Calicut Paragon have also rolled out dine-in and delivery offerings for anything between Dh35 and Dh50 a meal.


Dhanusha Gokulan

Originally from India, Dhanusha Gokulan has been working as a journalist for over ten years. For Khaleej Times, she covers NRI affairs, civil aviation, and immigration issues among other things. She completed her BA in Journalism, Economics and English Literature from Mangalore University in 2008 and is currently pursuing her MA in Leadership and Innovation in Contemporary Media at the American University in Dubai. In her spare time, she dabbles with some singing/songwriting, loves food, and is mom to an over-enthusiastic Labrador retriever. Tweet at her @shootsprintrite.

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