Onam is around the corner. Malayalees across the globe celebrate this great festival with great happiness. It is an evident sign of communal harmony.
Kerala, God’s own country
Kerala state in South India is called God’s own country. It is the land of chips and fish. It is the land of lanky coconut trees and pristine backwaters. It is the land of the medical science Ayurveda that promises the healing touch for a prolonged healthy life.
The legend of Onam
There is a mythological legend for this festival of Onam. It is about King Mahabali who gave Kerala its golden age. He was a wise and generous demon king. He was so generous that he was highly regarded by his subjects and everybody was happy in his kingdom. Though he was generous and loved by people, Gods felt challenged with the growing popularity of the demon king Mahabali. They sought the help of Lord Vishnu to curtail his popularity or it would be dangerous for all. Mahabali was a devotee of Lord Vishnu. Lord Vishnu took the avatar (incarnation) of a poor and dwarf Brahmin, called Vamana. He came to the kingdom of Mahabali just after his morning prayers requesting a boon from the king. The king readily accepted that he would grant the boon.
The disguised dwarf Brahmin asked for only a piece of land that could be covered by his three steps. The King made a promise to do so. Suddenly, Vamana, in reality Lord Vishnu, changed his figure to a massive size. With his first step he covered the whole of the sky and with the second he covered the whole of earth and then asked for a place to put his third step. King realized that Brahmin Vamana was in reality some great deity and so he asked Vamana to put his third step on his head. As soon as Vamana placed his foot on the head of Mahabali the king was pushed into the nether world Pathala. Lord Vishnu was pleased with the generosity of King Mahabali. He showed his real figure to him and told him he would grant anything he would want.
Since Mahabali was deeply attached with his people, he requested him to grant the boon to visit Kerala and his people every year. It is this homecoming of the generous King Mahabali that is celebrated as Onam every year.
Onam, a festival of flowers
Onam is an occasion when market for flowers is at its peak, with a flood of flowers all over the country. Kerala becomes a huge flower basket of various hues. Markets are filled with flowers, white jasmine, salmon and red oleander, yellow marigold, red and orange crossandra, violet bachelor’s button and velvet red cockscomb. The country is filled with the heady aromas of jasmine, Atemisia (marikolundhu) and fragrant screw pine.
Magic of flower carpets
An important feature of this festival is the preparation of Pookalam or the flower carpet. They are prepared in the front courtyard by girls of the house to welcome the spirit of King Mahabali in whose honor Onam is celebrated. Flower beds are decorated with marigold, Ixora, bachelor’s button, and green leaves and this display is an occasion for exhibiting culture and art.
A joyful season for children
Children eagerly wait for the arrival of this carnival festival. Even elderly people become children. People of different generations join together, forgetting their age and stage. It is time for the children to get new clothes, toys and everything else they asked for or thought of. All elders, grandparents, uncles and aunts grace their wishes with delight. It is also a time for homecoming for people staying away from the families, even in different countries. Their rare arrivals multiply the joy of the festival into several-folds.
Cultural Extravaganza of Onam
One of the most marvelous facets of Onam is the unfolding of the well-established culture of Malayalee traditions. We see not just glimpses but a whole gamut of it in this festival celebrated during ten days. Pulikali (Tiger dance), Kaikottikali (clapping dance), Kummattikalli (dances with masques), Kath kali, and several other folk arts and traditions can be seen through out the state.
Onam rituals are performed to establish the traditional relationship among all kinds of people. The elderly man of the family is greeted with presents called, ‘Onakazhcha’ and the elderly man, in turn, gives gifts to all. This is a very meaningful tradition to show the strength of the joint family. A sumptuous treat with varieties of food items is offered by the elderly man.
Onam instills a great and nostalgic passion in the mind of every Malayalee. It is a commemoration of the good old days of prosperity, honesty and happiness. It is a festival of harmony and friendship. It is an occasion for sharing.