It is that time of the year in God's Own Country, Kerala. Amid a pandemic, natural calamities and several restrictions, residents of this southern Indian State wonder how they could make King Mahabali's arrival better and happier.
Before I proceed, allow me to reveal a tiny fact. Malayalis are a community that blends in. It is, hence, no surprise that many with roots in Kerala celebrate Onam as well as a dozen other festivals. These include Diwali, Holi, Pongal and more. My family, for instance, has spent a considerable part of their lives outside Kerala. Amma (my mother) loves the idea of lighting lamps during Diwali, enjoys the suji-ka-halwa prepared on certain festivals, and yes, I have tied rakhis on my brother's wrist.
But the one festival that we took pride in was Onam. Here's As a child, Onam was only about a fancy vegetarian meal (aka the Sadya), and an endless telecast of Malayalam movies (most of which starred Mohanlal or Mammooty).
The festival took a whole new dimension when my family and I have moved to Kerala in 2003. Onam was unlike any other festival. Shoppers went berserk, foodies thronged to the stalls that sold payasam, banana chips, and sarkaraverratti and more. It also meant getting together with the whole family, with my paternal grandmother seated at the centre. We even witnessed the age-old traditions associated with the procession called athachamayam. The boat races, though watched only on TV, were worth every moment. To me, the State's many folk songs were peppier than any composition by Vishal-Shekar.
But as I had entered adulthood, Onam became an occasion to remind ourselves of the family and the community that we belong to. Decking up in a set-mundu, the floral carpet (aka pookalam), sometimes a game or two, and of course of the Sadya . The meal saw the participation of each member of the family. From laying the tables; to serving the dishes as well as cleaning the space after the meal. It was an event that gave the members of a family a chance to 'catch-up' on each other's lives, as well as allow the next generation to become closer to the extended family.
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In my humble opinion, it is this festival that unites people whose roots are in Kerala, and whose family as well as friends take pride in their association with the community. Onam has invariably brought the world together. Be it in the United States of America (USA), China, the Gulf Nations, countries of Europe or any other part of the globe, this festival has helped to bridge many cultural gaps. The songs, the food and of course King Mahabali, have won many hearts.
The past two years have not seen much enthusiasm during this time of the year owing to natural calamities that hit the state. This year, too, the coronavirus pandemic seems to have dampened the 'gala'. But, is Onam only about the floral carpet competitions, the food and the many processions? Or is it a moment that deserves to be celebrated?