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Onam - A peep in to the Kaliedoscope

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Onam - A peep in to the Kaliedoscope

Onam - A harvest festival celebrated across Kerala, the South Indian coastal state.  It is a moment of rejoice, festivity not just for the Hindus but for the entire population of the state irrespective of caste or creed. Keralites, rather take their festival world over including the Gulf nations and celebrate it with pride and gaiety. The air is filled with colours, fragrance and warmth. Onam is an occasion for friends and families to come together with no room for differences or inhibitions.

Kerala Onamsadhya

Onam is important for people of Kerala since it is the one which ties the past to the present. It is on this day that according to the mythology, King Mahabali is allowed to revisit his land, which once he ruled. As the legend has it, during his golden reign people were healthy, wealthy and prosperous and the devas were long forgotten, which brought down wrath on Mahabali. On the request by the devas, Lord Vishu reincarnated as Vamana asked King Mahabali to offer him 3 feet land, which Mahabali generously offered. The Vamana assumed a humungous form, with his first foot, he measured the whole of earth, with his second he measured the heavens, and there was nothing left for the third one, Mahabali offered his head instead. Lord Vishnu pushed Mahabali to the ‘Pathal’ or the ‘netherland’ where he would spend the rest of his life.  Losing himself to the Almighty, Mahabali gained eternity and he was granted a boon to visit the land once ever year. It is to mark the revisit of their beloved king that Onam is celebrated.

Onam usually falls in the month Aug-Sep, and the celebration extends for over a period of 10 days.  Elaborate floral patterns referred to as ‘poo kolam’ adorns every gateway. The fascinating aspect of the circular floral pattern is that, starting from the first day, each day another layer of new flowers with a different colour is added to the older one and the diameter keeps increasing till the tenth day.  Ladies in their crisp traditional mundu sarees gather around singing and dancing – celebrating life.  Elephants parading the streets, the sound of drums and cymbals are all inherent part of Onam festivity.

Thripunithura in Ernakulam district is the place where you want to be to witness the Onam procession. The first day ‘Atham’ marks the opening of the ceremony. Earlier the King was said to have been a part of this grand procession to the Thripunithura Fort. Gold caparisoned elephants, folk dances, traditional bands, floats were all part of this festive beginning. This tradition is being followed till date with great zeal.

Kerala Onam Specials

Another place, which is closely associated with this festival is the Thrikkakara Vamana Moorthy Temple near Kochi. As the whole legend is supposed to have taken place at this very temple with Vamana, the reincarnation of Lord Vishnu being the main deity. Onam is celebrated with pomp and splendour. Elaborate processions are part of the festivity here too. Performances are spread over a period of 10 days.  Thousands of people gather around to be a part of this.

Thumbi Thallal’ is a fascinating event where women folk engage themselves in dancing and singing, while men are involved in various energetic sports.

The ‘Kathakali’ dance (which translates as story in dance form), one of the oldest theatre forms, is an integral part of Onam celebrations. Seasoned professionals perform during the carnival. The grandeur of the costume, the paint smeared in a symmetrical pattern on the face, well-orchestrated moves and developed gestures is a delightful visual treat.

Other dance forms performed during this carnival are Kaikotti Kali, Puli Kali and Kummatti Kali. All involves grace and leaves the audience enthralled.

Onam 10 day Festival Kerala

Trichur is famous for the ‘Puli kali’ or the ‘Kaduva kali’ folk performance, during Onam celebrations. It is performed by trained artistes on the fourth day. Puli kali means ‘play of tigers’. The performers painted in yellow and black stripes as tigers and hunters, who dance to the pulsating rhythm of ‘Udukkai – a musical instrument’.

Witnessing the ‘Vallam kali’ or the snake boat race is an experience in itself. These 100-feet-long boats have the capacity to accommodate 150 men. Each boat is meticulously crafted and has a lot of semblance attached.  The boats are beautifully decorated, the more ornate and the more number of umbrellas signifies it belongs to an affluent family. About 30 boats participate each year.

The Vallam kali is conducted on a 40 km stretch on the 5th day of Onam. Out of the 150 men 125 are oarsmen and the rest are traditional singers.  Rhythmic splashing of water along with drums, cymbals, singing of traditional songs intensifies the scene. It is a race which marks the harmony and team spirit of each individual.  One person’s mistake could result in imbalance and, thereby, could capsize a boat.  This particular event attracts people from across the globe. There are many locations across Kerala where these races are conducted, not just during Onam but on various occasions too. Alapuzzha, Pulinkunnu, Kumarakom, Kottayam, Munnar, Kochi are few important locations. Winning the boat race is considered extremely prestigious.

Onamsadhya in Kerala

The most important of the ten-day festivity is ‘Thiruvonam’.  And as we all know, no festival is complete without a feast, the ‘Onamsadhya’ is an elaborate banquet served on plantain leaves is a sumptuous treat. During this banquet, people sit on the floor and enjoy the noon meal. The spread appeals to all the senses of the living; crackling, colourful, aromatic and mouth watering. Kalan, thoran, avial, erussery, sambar, rasam, payasam, different chutneys, papad, butter milk, curd, red rice, kichadi, pachadi, pickle are all part of the 26 dish-meal. There could be a few additions or variations depending on the region. There is even a pattern in how the dishes are served on the leaf. The traditional way of preparing the dishes of Onamsadhya does not involve onions, garlic and overpowering spices, thereby, appealing to the Satva Guna. It is not just the meal but even the preparatory time, which brings people together in the warmth of the kitchen.

Onam cuts across religious belief and brings people closer. It’s a celebration, which comes once a year, but the happiness and accord it spreads stays on forever.
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