As expats from eastern UP and Bihar celebrate Chhath Puja in the UAE, it is a relatively new celebration in the country as compared to other traditional Indian festivals.
Though it is quite popular here, it has an interesting story behind it.
In 2015, Pramod Singh, a Dubai resident and a native of Siwan in Bihar, was celebrating the birth of his daughter when his mother was also in Dubai. On November 17, his mother expressed her desire to perform Chhath Puja. In a first in Dubai, Pramod along with his 4-5 family members visited the Jumeirah open beach and performed Chhath Puja and other rituals.
Then onwards, the number of devotees increased every passing year. Today, the festival is celebrated on beaches across Dubai, Sharjah and Ajman with the participation of a sizable number of devotees.
Pramod Singh, who also manages a group called 'Bhojpuria Samaj' in Dubai, said, "This is not only an effort to connect with our roots, but to introduce it to our next generation born and brought up here. Today we can see that Chhath Puja is celebrated not only on the beaches, but also in societies, labour camps and at the community level."
Nabin Kumar, an engineer by profession and a native of Balia in UP, performed Chhath Puja in Abu Dhabi for the first time in 2017, and has been organising it every year since then at the Mamzar beach.
"Through Chhath Puja, we are asserting our ancestors' tradition and identity. We are thankful to the local administration, which allows us to perform the Puja following the municipality guidelines. This year, we are expecting more than 300 people on the Mamzar beach for Puja and 'Arghya'. Earlier, Pujas were performed on the two major beaches of Dubai, but now people are celebrating Chhath at many places, including private pools to local lakes," Kumar said.
Meraj Khan from Munger, Bihar, said, "After Onam, this is the only festival which is above religion and marks an occasion for all of us to get together at one place with our regional and linguistic identity. Having 'Thekua' (a traditional sweet made during Chhath) takes me back to my roots."
The main challenge was to introduce Chhath Puja to the new generation born and brought up here, who never visited India during the festival.
Kumar said that to attract the younger generation, they use the term 'Thanksgiving Festival of Bihar and UP', because Thanksgiving is quite popular in the UAE due to European influence and kids are more familiar with it.
"I explained to my daughter and her friend that Chhath Puja is a way to say thanks to the sun, nature, water and air in our traditional style. We also organise musical events and other homely activities during Chhath in which we involve the youngsters," Kumar said.
As the participation of Hindi-speaking expats is growing, the local markets are also adapting to it. During Chhath, now we can easily find most ingredients required for the festival in the Indian stores.