Dubai, Jan 15, 2021: No kite-flying, no song and dance over bonfire and no mega picnic plans. Traditional rituals associated with Indian harvest festivals marking the end of winter were given a miss as Indian expats observed muted celebrations for Lohri, Makar Sankranti, Bihu and Pongal amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The rich diversity of Indian community in the UAE allows each flavour of Indian-ness to be expressed fully #Pongal2021 #PongalFestival #Bihu #Lohri2021 #Sankranthi #Sankranti2021 @MEAIndia @IndianDiplomacy @MOS_MEA @AmbKapoor @cgidubai https://t.co/3Jd86KFshX— India in UAE (@IndembAbuDhabi) January 13, 2021
However, expats from Tamil Nadu organised a Pongal event at the Indian Consulate in Dubai and honoured the members of the consulate staff for their service to the community during the peak of the pandemic. “Usually, we have a grand Pongal celebration at Sheikh Rashid Auditorium [in The Indian High School] with the participation of thousands of people. But, due to the pandemic we cancelled the mega event and organised a small event in the consulate,” said Dr Jayanthimala Suresh, president of the Dubai Tamil Sangam.
CGI Dubai wishes all Indians a very happy Makar Sakranti, Pongal and Bihu and would like to inform that Consulate will remain closed on Jan 14, 2021 on this occasion. @IndembAbuDhabi pic.twitter.com/aZTur9VejE— India in Dubai (@cgidubai) January 14, 2021
She said the purpose of the celebration was to express the community’s gratitude to the officials and mission staff members who toiled day and night for supporting the repatriation of hundreds of thousands of Indians during the peak of the pandemic.
“Pongal is a harvest festival. It is also a thanksgiving day for Tamilians as we offer our gratitude to the sun, Mother Earth, farmers and cattle. We decided to express our gratitude to the consulate officials as well.”
Dr Jayanthimala said she had helped organise 18 repatriation flights for expats from Tamil Nadu and had personally witnessed the efforts taken by the diplomats and other staff members for repatriation services. She said that those efforts inspired her to hold the Pongal event at the mission and also to host a sumptuous feast.
Under the Vande Bharat Mission of the Indian government, hundreds of flights were operated to repatriate stranded Indians in the UAE. Officials from the missions offered their services for registration of the details of those who wanted to fly home and for shortlisting those with the most compelling reasons during the peak of the pandemic. They also facilitated flight operations with necessary approvals, coordinated with community groups and government entities. Diplomats and staff members were also present at airports to ensure that the process of repatriation went smooth. “They did a marvellous job during the pandemic,” added Dr Jayanthimala.
Neeraj Agrawal, consul for Press, Information and Culture at the Consulate, said the consulate officials appreciated the gesture from the community members. “This time there are no major celebrations. We request our people to celebrate responsibly at home and we are hopeful that the pandemic situation would improve soon with the massive vaccination drive happening right now.”
It’s those days of the year when people from across the country irrespective of where they are living welcome the beginning of the Harvest season. Sankranti, Bihu, Pongal, Bhogi, Uttarayan... the list is endless.— India in UAE (@IndembAbuDhabi) January 14, 2021
The @IndembAbuDhabi wishes everyone happy and safe festivities. pic.twitter.com/ynW1ANVkk3
The mission posted pictures from the event at the consulate and passed its best wishes on the occasion of these harvest festivals. Retweeting the consulate’s post, the Indian Embassy in Abu Dhabi stated: “The rich diversity of Indian community in the UAE allows each flavour of Indian-ness to be expressed fully.”
Indoor, online festivities
Some other community members, who also used to organise events to celebrate the festival, said they limited the festivities to their homes this year. “Last year, we had a nice celebration at a restaurant where our members wore ethnic outfits and performed traditional dances like kolattam and kummi. This time we just did puja [prayer rituals] and held a special Pongal feast at home,” said Meenakumari Pathmanathan, president of Tamil Ladies Association.
She said the regular practice of holding mega picnic parties has also been called off due to the pandemic.
Kesar Kothari, a senior member of the Rajasthani community, said the community members would miss the kite-flying ceremony they used to hold for Makar Sankranti. “Instead, we are attending a Zoom session where singers from Rajasthan will be performing,” he said.