Onam is around the corner , a famous festival in Kerala which is celebrated by one and all. The month of struggle and hardship of Karkkadagam ( Malayalam month)which is a difficult time for farmers because of rains and dwindling stock of food grains gets over and it sows the hope of bright days ahead because of the bountiful harvest. Onam is also known as the harvest festival of Kerala. These celebrations go on for about 12 days starting with Atham star, the 10 th day Tiruvonam being the most important day. The people enthusiastically gear up for this festival . They shop for new clothes, new accessories for their houses and markets also match the requirements by putting up their best sales.
What I like about Onam, is the rainbow of colours it brings in each and every body’s mind. The houses get spruced up and each and every courtyard gets decorated with floral carpets. In villages one would find children going around plucking and collecting flowers of various size, shape and colour early in the morning and enthusiastically creating floral patterns. Finding floral carpets in front of each and every house is really a visual treat and it lifts up one’s spirits.
People staying far away flock to their homes to be with their near and dear ones. The karanavar ( the eldest member) hands out Onakodi (new Clothes)to all the family members. Every one eagerly waits for the Tiruvonam day, on that day all the family members sit and enjoy the grand feast which is called as onasadya. Preparation for the sadya starts 2-3 days ahead and women folk of the house give their best for the occasion. They churn out traditional delicacies and the king of dessert payasam is served at the end of the sadhya. There is a proverb related to Onam-Kanam vittum onam unnananam. One may have to sell even the seedlings kept for the next sowing season- meaning not even a single soul should remain hungry on that day.
It is really a spectacle to see hordes of people moving on the road in their new and best attire visiting temples and their relatives. All the ladies wear the traditional settu mundu and also play the traditional dance kaikottikali around the flower carpet which gets brightened with the oil lamp in the centre. Kaikottikali is a form of dance where the women move slowly, in rhythmic movements clapping hands as they render songs invocating the Gods.
Kerala government conducts Tourist week connected with this and snake boat races and cultural events are conducted during this period. These events attract lot of tourists, domestic as well as from foreign countries.
There is an interesting legend related to this great festival. Mahabali was a very powerful and benevolent asura king and all his subjects were happy because he used to grant all their wishes. Seeing that, even the gods became jealous of him. They felt the king would become a threat to them and requested Maha Vishnu to help them. Lord Vishnu, as Vamana, a young Brahmin using the king’s weakness to grant all wishes asked him for 3 paces of land. Mahabali happily obliged. Vamana grew into a gigantic form and with one pace He measured earth and with the second He measured the sky and asked the king where he could measure the third pace. Having realised it was Lord Vishnu himself who came as Vamana, to honour his commitment, Mahabali showed his head to the Lord and with that Bali was sent to the nether world. Before leaving he got a boon from Lord Vishnu to visit his subjects every year and that, people should celebrate his return as a big festival of joy and cheer. With great religious fervour, people welcome Mahabali and worship Vishnu also during this period.
As times have changed, tradition is giving way to convenience as time is difficult to manage. Working women look upon hoteliers and caterers for ready made Onasadyas and event mangers to handle all the preparation for Onam. Even though this is away from the traditional way, people seem to compromise for this as everyone gets rest as well as enjoyment of the festival though with a slight strain on their budgets.
Whatever may be the legend or the tradition, Onam is a time to forget all worries and let one’s hair down and soak in the sweetness of celebrations.
Ente Onaasamsagal (Happy Onam Greetings).
Acknowledgement: Beautiful picture of floral carpet by Matthieu.A
See you soon!