x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Song and dance rang in, and close out, Indian holiday

Thousands of expatriates marked the end of the Navratri festival with celebrations that also aim to introduce the younger generation to homeland traditions.

The holiday provided a chance for Hindu communities to introduce a younger generation to their homeland's traditions.
The holiday provided a chance for Hindu communities to introduce a younger generation to their homeland's traditions.

ABU DHABI // Indian expatriates marked the end of a week-long festival in their home country yesterday with singing, dancing and dishes of traditional vegetarian fare.

Although communities celebrate the festival in different ways, calling it names such as Durga Puja or Navratri, most who do so are marking the end of the harvest season.

At Vinay and Nira Varma's house in Abu Dhabi, hundreds of guests gathered for a feast to celebrate Ashtami, or the eighth day.

"It is an open house today," said Mr Varma, the managing partner of the Royal Orchid group of restaurants. "I have been here for 40 years, so I thought we should host everyone."

Mr Varma joined his wife and family in dance before taking his place by the door to greet more guests as they streamed in. "There is no head count on this," he said.

In addition to receiving gifts from their elders, children sang alongside the adults before a lunch that included samosas, cauliflower and pea curry and a deep-fried bread called puri.

The ingredients for yesterday's feast were decided on by Mr Varma's wife, who plays an active role in her husband's business, especially when it comes to designing menus to feed family and friends.

Manoj Bhatia, the managing director of K Corner, a chain of shoe stores in the city, attended with his wife, Mala, and daughter, Khushi, 7, a pupil at Pearl Primary School.

"It is very important nowadays to introduce the culture to the kids," he said. "It is important for them to understand what their culture is. My daughter, she knows, but as she grows up, she must understand it better. To come to a gathering like this is to visit a second home and introduce everyone to our child as she grows up here."

Meanwhile, Khushi, overwhelmed by the gifts and attention, recited a list of Indian festivals that she had come to enjoy in the past few years.

Among them was Navratri, typically a singing and dancing festival that lasts for nine days in Indian states such as Gujurat and Maharashtra. Mr Bhatia travelled to Dubai earlier this week on the insistence of his daughter so she could dance with her friends at an event.

"I have been having a really good time," said Khushi. "But my favourite part was dancing and I got to wear a new dress and dance."

Rajinder Khanna, an electrical engineer, and Suresh Chopra, a mechanical engineer, enthralled the crowd with their duet singing, accompanied by the dholak, or drums, and chimta, which is two tambourines carved together in wood.

"This is a gift of God that my friends have," said Mr Varma.

The two men said they picked up their singing skills from listening to the radio as children and also tapes of their favourite singers. "Only during times like this we sing, otherwise we are out in the desert, working on projects," said Mr Chopra.

In Dubai on Thursday, more than 11,000 people gathered for the first of three nights of the Great Indian Navratri Festival at the Mamzar Park Amphitheatre. There they performed the dandiya ras, a folk dance where men and women move in circles with sticks in their hands. Traditionally it is performed to just the drum beats of the dhol, but present day celebrations include DJs remixing folk songs with Bollywood beats - with celebrants often dancing for hours.

Tussar Sonigra's band, called Beats 16, mixed a medley of Bollywood songs and traditional music while Bollywood actors such as Aarti Chaabria, Anjana Sukhani and Nisha Kothari showed off some dance steps for the crowd.

People had the "chance to celebrate the festivals, traditions and sentiments", said Rajeev Reddy, the chairman and managing director of the Mumbai-based Country Club Hotel, which organised the event.