x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

10-day Keralite harvest festival begins

Thousands of Keralites will celebrate the festival of Onam across the UAE, starting this weekend.

A volunteer serves food during Onam celebrations at the Kerala Social Centre in Abu Dhabi last year.
A volunteer serves food during Onam celebrations at the Kerala Social Centre in Abu Dhabi last year.

DUBAI // Thousands of people of all religions from the Indian state of Kerala will sit down in groups today to enjoy a feast marking the start of the harvest festival of Onam.

Meals featuring up to nine courses will be served in community centres, Indian restaurants and malls across the UAE to mark the occasion.

With Onam falling outside of Ramadan this year, Keralites will be able to make the most of the celebrations. "Usually with Ramadan, we have had to celebrate the festival maybe a week or so afterwards, but this year everyone is excited that we can take part on the actual day," said KV Shamsudheen, the chairman of the Pravasi Bharatiya Welfare Trust.

Mr Shamsudheen will send care packages to labourers at Al Saja in Sharjah. The packages will contain 15 items of food including flour, cooking oil, sugar and rice. "This is for the people who cannot celebrate Onam and it's enough food to last seven days," he said.

The feast is traditionally eaten off large banana leaves, with participants sitting in communal halls.

Traditional dancing and music will form the centrepiece of celebrations at Al Quoz Mall in Dubai, where dozens of stalls have been erected to sell everything from art to food.

"We launched the programme on Tuesday, and are expecting about 7,000 people to attend over the four days," said Biji Balan, a spokeswoman for Benchmark event organisers. "Onam is traditionally a time for families, and this year will be no different."

The festival celebrates the spirit of King Mahabali, who is said to visit Kerala at the time of Onam. Celebrated at the start of Chingam, the first month of the Malayalam calendar, Onam usually lasts four to 10 days, with the first and 10th days regarded as the most important.

Next Friday, more than 2,000 people are expected to enjoy a feast at the Indian Social and Cultural Centre in Abu Dhabi.