Sunday, August 26, 2007

onam-the special and spectacular festival of kerala

the whole of kerala goes into a tizzy for ten days during the keralite month of chingan(august and september) when the festival of onam is celebrated.the colourful harvest festival of kerala.the most important day is the 10th day,thiru corresponds with shravan day.after all, spring has arrived after months of incessant rains. for centuries,the people there have been celebrating onam with elan.this tradition has been passed on from generation to generation. believed to be from the sangam age.that is really pretty ancient.

according to legend,king mahabali who ruled over vast tracts of land in the southern tip of western india was a benevolent ruler and his subjects literally worshipped him.the grandson of the famous prahlada,the vishnubhaktha whose devotion resulted in the narasimha(man-lion) avatara of lord vishnu.incidentally keralites are devout worshippers of lord vishnu because of king mahabali.but there was one problem.he was an asura(demon).having obtained miraculous powers from lord shiva for his unstinting penance,he was troubling the devas(smaller gods) no much so that they pleaded to lord vishnu for help.he descended to earth when mahabali was doing a big yagna(fire sacrifice) as a brahmin dwarf and requested the king for that extent of land which would be covered by three of his footsteps.mahabali immediately agreed.smelling a plot to undo him, his guru shukracharya and his son dissuaded him from granting the boon to the brahmin dwarf.the unsuspecting king did not heed to their advice and asked the dwarf to take away that much of land which he had asked for.for mahabali keeping up his word was more important than even his life."praan jaye pun maan na jaye". honour to him was surely superior to existence.instantaneously the dwarf morphed into a huge size reaching upto the heavens and measured the whole earth with one foot,the upper region with another.the king realising his folly begged forgiveness and sought the lord's blessings.lord vishnu put one more foot on his head and pushed him to patala(hell).the saving grace was that he would rule hell. and once in a year he would be permitted to visit his homeland. the lord's kindness and retribution for is believed that on the day of thiruvonam,mahabali visits his kingdom.the people rejoice and welcome the king."the king is back".

spectacular boat race,kathakali dances,music and song festivals are all arranged on this auspicious occasion.

mention has to be made of the special food(onasadyam) that is prepared on this day. the sadya is usually served as lunch and the preparations for the grand feast start from the previous night no to onions and garlic,the sadyam is a vegan delight.coconut is the king and its aroma can be smelt for miles with all its nuances .a host of pappadums and knickknacks provide the kickoff to the gastronomic venture. upperi or chips is prepared from raw bananas, jack fruit and bitter gourd. the first course on the big plaintain leaf is a dal cooked with grated coconut. followed by a spoonful of rice and a ghee with olan(mashed ash gourd with black-eyed pea in coconut milk and green chillies)) and theyal and aviyal( a semiviscous curry of carrot,raw banana and drumstick). erissery(pumpkins/yam with broken red chillies and curry leaves),kalan(buttermilk,sliced plaintain,yams) followed by kootukari(vegetables with bengal gram), sambhar,rasam and so on. the dessert is the adhapradhaman which is a must-have.a silky and rich paayasam made out of jackfruit and enhanced with coconut milk and ghee.of course there are many variations to the pradhaman.

people also gift each other with new clothes(onakkodi).muslims and christians also celebrate this festival.have you heard of any majority-minority clashes in kerala? kerala is a great example of people living together in harmony with respect for each other's religion and enjoying a high level of literacy and longevity.they cannot forget the golden age when mahabali ruled them and celebrating onam is in his memory is an expression of their deep gratitude.not to miss out the bonhomie the nri keralites in the middle east make a beeline for their homes to celebrate and enjoy the unforgettable onam festival.


Lotus Reads said...

Oh, gs, I would give anything to be in Kerala at this moment! Last year we were in Cochin just days before Onam and the atmosphere was frenetic to say the least...people were attaching themselves to jewellery/sari stores the way ants attach themselves to candy bars. I was shocked and amazed but completely caught up with the frenzy!!!

Thank you for a wonderful post and for elaborating on the origins of Onam, I always love reading how festivals have had their genesis.

Lotus Reads said...

And, you make an excellent point about Onam being a festival celebrated by all Keralites whether they are Christians, Muslims or Hindus. The rest of India can certainly learn from Onam.

gs said...

hello lr
i am aware of your interest in our festivals and their origins.some of them i know,some i research.for some dedicated readers of my post!
it goes crazy in kerala during onam.your analogy is very apt.but then if everyone is having fun,so be it.

David J said...

Thanks GS, I'd love to visit during this festival maybe one day the opportunity will arise. Your posts are the cause of many fascinating conversations in my office. I often discuss these subjects with a Nepalese colleague. We have a great time considering the meanings of these stories. Soul nourishing stuff!

gs said...

hello david
kerala is paradise on plan a visit to will never regret it.our country like others,i am sure,is full of such myths.people believe in them and take some of the famous gods or kings as their role models.the diversity in india is staggering.and in spite of it,the beauty is that there is unity.

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