It’s Onam, Let’s celebrate!!!

Malavika Krishna.K, IIK Young Contributor
Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The myths and stories associated with Onam, the national festival of ‘Gods Own Country’, are well known to all. It marks the yearly visit of King Mahabali to meet his subjects. It is believed that he was sent to ‘Pathalam’ by the 5th avatar of Lord Vishnu- Vamana. It is also our harvest festival. Onam is celebrated all over Kerala irrespective of religion, caste and creed. Even though the basic elements of celebration which includes the floral carpet ( Onapookkalam), traditional feast (Onasadya), new clothes (Onakkodi), different games (Onakkali) etc. remains the same all over Kerala, we can find some regional differences. In some place the Onasadya is important while in some other place snake boat race is in limelight. The cultural capital of Kerala, Trissur is famous for its Pulikali during the Onam season.

In Kuwait, mostly, Onam falls during the schooldays making it impossible to celebrate it with the usual vigor. Onapookkalam remains a one day luxury with the flowers bought from shop. Even then my mom tries her best to make the ‘Thiruvonam’ day wonderful. We start the preparations on Uthradam, the previous day of Thiruvonam, accompanied by her childhood stories and how she used to help her mom on this day. ‘Uthradapaachil’ is the regional word denoting the busy schedule of the women on the previous day of Thiruvonam, cleaning the households, preparations for the next day etc. Evening we all sit together and cut the vegetables for the next day’s sadhya.
Next day my mom gets up early and prepares the yummy delicacies. I and my brother will design our own Pookkalam. By the time we are ready for school; my mom will finish all her cooking and will be ready for office. It is the day when my father reaches home early from office to have the traditional lunch together. After school, we wear our Onakkodi and will have Sadya together.

For me this is happening every year without any change. But the stories of Onam celebration, that my parents use to tell, are so different with a colorful ambience.
Luckily I was there in Kerala, during Onam, last year. It was indeed an unforgettable one in my life. The floral carpet starts its journey from Atham day, 10 days prior to Thiruvonam, where it will be having just one circle of flowers. A local white small flower named ‘Thumba’ is of prime importance in the floral carpet. As the days pass, the circles also increase. On the 10th day we have special rituals to welcome King Mahabali.

It was during these days I heard about famous “Vallasadya’, at Aranmula Parthasarathy temple. Aranmula is the heritage village, famous for many things including the yearly Snake Boat Race at the nearby Pamba River. ‘Vallasadya’ is a mass feast given as an offering by the devotees to the oarsmen of the participating snake boat.
When I heard all these, I was eager to attend that and my father agreed. While going to Aranmula temple that day, I had no idea of what was in store for me. As we were waiting at the temple my parents took us to the river bank. To my surprise, a huge “ChundanVallam” (the snake boat) approached with the oarsmen loudly singing the rhythmic ‘Vanchipatt’. When they reached, they were given an amazingly beautiful reception in a traditional way to the temple accompanied by “Chendamelam”. After seeking the blessings from the deity, they were welcomed to the hall were the feast was arranged.

I was left in awe while watching the way they were served. It was completely different from the normal feast. The captain of the oarsmen would request for the dishes in a specific order. They would even demand that, it should be served by a specific member of the family offering that feast. Requesting a dish during the feast is normal, but if it is requested in the form of rhythmic ‘Vanchippaat’, then it is something very special. The rest of the oarsmen repeat the same following the rhythm, together. The total ambiance was charged with the rhythm and I was taken aback even by the lyrics. It was indeed a lifetime experience of Onam celebrations in Kerala.

I know that this is just a glimpse of our tradition. Now I wish to experience all those unknown things of our culture which we are missing in our childhood in Kuwait, may be sometimes later. I wonder how rich our parent’s childhood was, experiencing the Kerala culture with traditional way of celebrating all our festivals. Thanks to my parents, at least they try to give me and my brother the taste of it through their stories.

Malavika Krishna
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Wednesday, September 7, 2016
Happy Onam to All!

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