Onam, a festival that brings everyone together!
"Mumma, today our teacher told us about Onam," said my son after his online assembly conducted by the school yesterday. He was so excited to tell me about it, how his teacher told them about King Mahabali and how in Kerala everyone celebrated Onam. When the teacher asked the students who celebrated Onam, my child was the first to raise his hand. I could see his joy in his eyes. He was thrilled to be able to share his Onam celebration with his peers.
So much has changed in this new era. Everything is now global thanks to social media networks.
I don't recall my school having a special assembly for regional festivals when I was a kid. It was only a section of the textbook. However, schools are now more open to educating children about anything practically. They are paving the path for a new generation to enjoy all of the festivals together.
In the mid-nineties, the celebrations were limited to particular regions.
Onam is Kerala's harvest festival. It's one of the many festivals celebrated by Malayalis all around the world with zeal and glee. When I was a kid, my brother and I used to get very enthusiastic about decorating the pookkalam (rangoli made with colourful flowers). Young girls dressed up in traditional Pattu pavada (Kerala style Lehanga), ladies in Settu mundu, and boys/men in Mundu (Dhoti).
We never lived in Kerala, but my parents attempted to instil a Keralite soul in us in Varanasi, too. So far, I haven't had the opportunity to visit Kerala for Onam. But I will attempt to fulfil my desire to celebrate Onam in Kerala as soon as possible.
In my childhood, a typical Onam started with Amma's special, Ela Ada (rice pancake with coconut and jaggery) for breakfast, followed by the great Onasadya (multi-course south Indian vegetarian feast) in the afternoon. We decorated the pookkalam in front of our apartment's gate in the morning and then assisted Acchan in setting up the tables for the visitors. Acchan's North Indian friends would often stop around for lunch. They relished eating from a banana leaf with no utensils (I am sure it was a different experience for them).
Amma's students from school used to come in the evening to wish us. They were, served Acchappam, Murku, Karolappam, and other dishes. The whole day had spiritualist energy about it. It used to be fun to tell my north friends about the varied customs.
Kerala society used to hold an Onam celebration on the first Sunday following Onam. For all age groups, a variety of cultural and sporting events were organised. Aunties performed Thiruvadira kali (a traditional Kerala folk dance style performed by women), children sung folk songs, and men, women, and children competed in tug of war. One of the uncles would dress up as King Mahabali and hand out sweets to the children. Following the ceremonies, a magnificent Onasadya was served.
These festivals taught the next generation about their ancestors' culture. Everyone used to meet and greet one other, and the event got celebrated with enthusiasm. Even though we were all living outside of Kerala, the event brought us all together as one large family.
I miss the Onam celebrations so much since I am not living in Varanasi. However, I make a point to celebrate Onam in the same manner like I used to do at home. In this way, I hope to teach my children about our culture.
This year, my boys are preparing to greet King Mahabali with pookalam in the morning, followed by a small sadya (not so grand one since their mother is not a very good chef! LOL) in the afternoon. They'll be ready to celebrate Rakshabandhan with their cousins the next day. An example of North and South merging.
Recently, I see so many residential societies in Metro cities coming together to celebrate different festivals of India like Ganesh Chaturthi, Pongal, Lohri, Onam etc. This excitement demonstrates true globalisation. There is no such thing as a North or South Indian, but we are all Indians.
Happy Onam to everyone!
Thank you for taking the time to read my article. If you enjoy it, please like and share it. You can also read my other blogs.