UAE: Indian expats have muted celebrations for Pongal, Bihu, Makar Sankranti

The regional festivals mark the beginning of the winter harvest season in India


Dhanusha Gokulan

Published: Fri 14 Jan 2022, 9:50 PM

Last updated: Fri 14 Jan 2022, 9:58 PM

Traditional festivities associated with India’s winter harvest festival were given a miss as Indian expatriates observed a muted Bihu, Lohri, Makar Sankranti, and Pongal on Friday, January 14. Amid rising Covid-19 cases, expatriates in the UAE marked India’s winter harvest festival in a muted manner.

Celebrated to mark the beginning of the harvesting season in the country, the festival is marked in every region of India, on the same day, but in different manners and names.

For instance, in Punjab Lohri is celebrated, and Bihu is observed in Assam. Thai Pongal is celebrated in Tamil Nadu, Makaravilakku in Kerala and Makar Sankranti in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Instead of large community gatherings, families observed intimate festivities with their close loved ones at home.


In Dubai, the Consulate General of India wished all Indian expatriates through its social media channels. At the Dubai Expo 2020 India pavilion, dance group Dhol Tasha put up a fiery performance to celebrate Makar Sankranti on Friday.

The Punjabi and Assamese communities hold a ritual of lighting a ceremonial bonfire on the occasion of Lohri or Bihu.

Geetika Khanikar, an Assamese expatriate in Dubai told Khaleej Times, “We are about 500 Assamese people living in the UAE. Usually, every year for Bihu, we have a large gathering at Mushrif Park, Dubai. Since the pandemic, we’ve been having small, intimate gatherings at home instead.”

The Assamese ceremonial bonfire is called meji, explained Geetika.

“Like the last one-and-a-half years, we celebrated at home this year as well. We had a small bonfire in our garden,” she said.

“After which, we eat traditional dishes such as pitha (a sweet dish made from rice powder, coconut, bananas and other ingredients), chira doi (a dish made using flattened rice, yoghurt and jaggery), and haah kumura (traditional duck curry with ash gourd),” Geetika explained.

Pre-Covid, the community would cook these dishes during large picnics at Mushriff Park.

“This year, it is just celebrations with family members,” she added.

Abhijit Bhattacharya, another Assamese expatriate in Dubai, said, “We are not so busy this year due to the Covid-19 situation. This particular Bihu is called Bhogali Bihu. Obviously, it is celebrated in Assam in a big way and we would try and replicate the celebrations in Dubai as well.”

Abhijit and his wife Juri and children - Abhirup and Agrima – observed celebrations in a muted manner this year.

“Bihu is an occasion for community gathering and socialising. We usually get together, make merry, eat traditional dishes and celebrate,” he explained.


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