Yet another Onam’s here — and this year I don’t get to celebrate it at all (for one year, we’re off all celebrations ‘coz granny passed away). My first Onam after marriage and there it goes down the drain! Hmmm.
All these years, when we ‘had’ Onam to celebrate, it never was a big deal for me. I used to love getting all decked up in the Kerala traditional wear, have all the relative buzzing around, have that sumptuous sadya…but well, Onam was always just another festival. But somehow, this year, seeing everyone else celebrate makes me feel weird — and guilty for letting poor Onam never get that importance and high-office!
And to add to all that, the husband is totally down with fever — high temperature and body pain and all that. And I am also sneezing my way to the same condition. I read somewhere that if you sneeze too hard, you can fracture a rib; if you try to suppress a sneeze, you can rupture a blood vessel in your head or neck and die. Surprisingly, I’m still alive, and my ribs are in perfect order Hope it remains so for at least another week — because my parents are coming tomorrow! Yey! The only thing I can say about continuous sneezing is that it makes you look like a drunk, sleep-deprived Chinese! (The red eyes, small and squinted)
Anyway, yesterday a friend popped up on chat and asked whether I had a bath in the morning and went to the temple after that. Well, when I told her Onam had no religious connections, she asked me why, then, Mahabali roams around with a “kuri” on his forehead. I told her it was the then Devas‘ and Asuras‘ version of our modern bindi
Well, Onam really has no ‘religious’ aspect about it. It is the day the Asura King Mahabali comes up from the underworld ‘Pathalam‘, to visit his beloved Kerala and the ‘citizens’ there — a once-a-year allowance granted by Lord Vishnu . The day when all of Kerala is dressed at its best, is laden after a good harvest and awaits a grand year ahead. (The story behind all this will give enough material for 3 posts!!)
Onam, therefore, is significant in two ways…
One, it is the commemoration of the community at large and celebration of past history, the Mahabali legend; and two, it is the celebration of the harvest, tied with the memory of the golden age of prosperity. Onam is the time when Kerala is all set to welcome back its favourite King for a day of feast and enjoyment. After the monsoon drenches this beautiful state for almost all of the Karkidakam (the Malayali’s ‘dark’ month — when nothing inauspicious is taken up), Chingam walks in,bringing with it spring and auspiciousness. Chingam signals harvest, which is celebrated in the form of Onam!
This sense of joy, prosperity and merrymaking is celebrated traditionally with folk games, family get-togethers and lots of sadya.
The best part of Onam has always been the Onakkodi. People gift one-another and wear new clothes during Onam. ‘Vastra’ (dress) also stands for ‘heart’. So, new dresses signifies the ‘renewal’ of the heart with new thoughts, cleansing it of all bad memories!
Atham pathinu ponnonam… Onam celebrations start on the day Atham (the Malayalam star) falls — 10 days before Thiruvonam (another Malayalam star). A huge circle made on the courtyard, coated with cowdung (to keep the flowers in place), is beautifully decorated with flowers and called ‘Onapookkalam’. In most houses, this is done with great mastery and ends up being a beautiful work of art!
On Thiruvonam, before Mahabali comes for his yearly visit, houses are cleaned and decorated with flowers and traditional lamps. A beautifully enchanting display of fireworks and lighting turns the state capital, Thiruvananthapuram, into something of a fairyland!
Sumptuous sadyas are spread on the greenest of all plantain leaves. The sadya is an important part of Onam — its the yearly feast even the poorest person in the state doesn’t wish to miss. “Kaanam vittum Onam unnanam“, they say. It means that to have a share of the Onasadya, one should be willing to sell even the bare necessity he owns! The sadya is a full course meal, served strictly in the following order: 3 pickles (ginger, lime and mango), a thoran, a kitchadi, avial and koottucurry on one side of the leaf; on the other, banana chips, banana pieces dipped in jaggery, a small banana, pappads, rice and parippu. Then follows sambar, a milk-payasam with boli, a jaggery payasam with banana, and finally, a bit more rice with pulissery, rasam and then buttermilk! (The sadya varies from district to district in kerala; this is the Thiruvananthapuram style and I know only of this!)
Different parts of Kerala celebrate Onam in their own different ways: Athachamayam (a cultural procession in the royal town of Tripunithura); the Thrikkakarayappan further north; Kathakali dancers in gorgeous costumes enacting the legends in Valluvanad;. an impressive procession of elephants adorned with their nettipattoms in Thrissur, where masked dancers perform the colorful Kummattikali; the famous Aranmula Vallam Kali in Aranmula; Pulikali (Kaduvakali) all over the state..everyone has one’s own concept of Onam! And, these are but a few of the various traditional activities that are enjoyed during Onam.
The swing, one most important part of Onam, is enjoyed by everyone: decked in their best, they sing Onappaattukal, swinging to and fro from high branches.
Oh! Good ol’d Onam. I miss it sooooo much this year…and when a friend send me a pic he clicked of the lit-up roads in Thiruvananthapuram, I saw nostalgia run across the room and take a huge leap on to me! Sigh!
Happy Onam, everyone! Have a great day today…and a graaaand year ahead — while I head off to sneeze in piece peace!
Image courtesy: Google Images. In the spirit of Onam, forgive my borrowing your images; if you do not like it being posted here, put in a word; they shall be promptly removed