The Spirit of Onam
August 23rd is Onam, the grandest festival celebrated in Kerala, India. It is a festival of flowers, colours, feasts, dances, games and moreover of togetherness and all-around merriment. It is mostly during this time that the Malayalis (People who speak the language Malayalam; Natives of Kerala) fly to their family home, wherever they are (ideally speaking). Indeed, it is a family event and without it the festival has no meaning whatsoever...(So if anybody reading this hub are thinking whether to make the trip to Kerala this year, don’t think twice, come home to your dear and near ones and make this opportunity to spend quality time with your family!)
Check out this video from a Malayalam movie “Raapakal”
Maybe people in cities and towns do not celebrate Onam that elaborately as seen in the video but surely there are many inevitable things related to Onam, such as Pookalam (carpet of flowers arranged on the floor). Even now, where people live in harmony with nature, flowers are plucked from the premises of the house itself, mostly by children. But in concrete jungles where many people live in flats and apartments it is not at all practical. Simple solution- buy flowers from market. Yes people, don’t let go of the spirit of Onam just because of some minor reason.
Oh, and there are even competitions for Pookalam...
Next is the sadya (feast). Yummmm! That almost sums it up! Rice with about umpteen curries (such as Parippu, Sambhar, Pulisseri, Rasam, Moru), side dishes (Avial, Thoran, Olan, pickles, Pappad) and desserts (Ada pradhaman, Semiya Payasam, Pazham Payasam) Onasadya is...well...a magnificent feast which is served on a banana leaf. No spoons or forks please!
All the dishes are (or were?) made at home and the women in the family found it the best way to spend some good time talking of this and that and working as a harmonious and industrious unit. Nowadays there is another option available which is to make reservations at a hotel and have a grand Sadya. Not as interesting as the first option, but people who do not cook or do not have the time should have a share of Onam too, don’t they?
There are several games (Thalapanthukali) and dances (Thiruvathira, Thumbithullal) associated with Onam, and to see them you need to go right to the heart of Kerala. I performed Thiruvathira once at school and it was so much fun! Ah, those good old days...
And this weekend (14th August 2010) my hubby is planning to see the famous Nehru Trophy Boat Race at Alappuzha, Kerala which is an exciting competition involving snake boats (Chundan valloms)! Hmm if he wishes to see it, he should be there early in the morning since it is sure going to be realllly crowded as always!
More info: http://nehrutrophy.nic.in/new/home.html#hist
Another important thing associated with Onam is of course shopping!! You can’t even guess how many advertisements flood the newspapers, television and radio as soon as the Onam wind starts to blow... It is a superb time for businesses dealing in clothes, grocery, electrical and electronic appliances, gold (Oh Malayalis love gold!) and what-not’s!
Am I forgetting something? Ah, yes, why is Onam celebrated anyway? You see, once there was a great Asura (demon) king named Mahabali who was, unlike his kinsmen, very generous and kind. People liked him very much and respected him. However the Gods grew jealous of him and soon pleaded with Lord Vishnu, one among the Trinity, to help them get rid of him. Lord Vishnu then went to Mahabali disguised as Vaman, a Brahmin boy, and requested to grant him three feet of land. Since the king was very generous and three feet of land was next to nothing to him, he agreed wholeheartedly. At once, the boy grew in size and with two feet covered the whole universe. Seeing that there was no place left for the boy’s third feet, Mahabali asked him to place it on his head. Lord Vishnu presuming his true form pushed him down to the underworld. Pleased with his generosity, He also gave Mahabali a boon that he could visit his people once a year. And from then on, that day came to be celebrated as Onam.
Hope I have given you a taste of the beautiful festival of Onam. If you are a Keralite, don’t miss it for the world to celebrate it with your family and friends, no matter where you are. And if you are from any other part of the world, this is to let you know that there are some people in a little place called Kerala in India, who celebrate it, maybe not exactly in the traditional way, but with great enthusiasm.
Wish you a very happy and prosperous Onam!