Aplomb and full-on Razzmatazz: Another Onam Arrives.

It is that time of the year for which every Malayali waits with bated breath: the festival of joy and splendor when scattered families come together to celebrate, unity is applauded, laughter is afoot, floral carpets brighten every frontyard, sumptuous Onam Sadyas are served and everyone celebrates without caste or religious differences…it is THE festival of Kerala, ten days long, here to dazzle and energize , and then leave with us waiting for the next Onam to arrive again….

My class' athapoo

For my foreign audience: Onam is the harvest festival of Kerala, celebrated with much fun and joy. Festivities include making floral patterns with flowers on the floor, putting up swings, family gatherings, traditional games, music and dance as well as boat races, school competitions and of course the Onam lunch, which I believe holds the Guinness record of being  the heaviest lunch put together. The Onam lunch is called “sadya” and is served on plantain leaves. Onam is THE festival of all Malayalis.)

Onam image showing "sadya"

Onam this year is already knocking down doors: the boat races are afoot, “sadya” preparations are going on, trains are jam-packed with Malayalis returning to spend Onam with their loved ones, colleges and schools are joining in the festivity with Athapoo (floral carpet making) competitions, the Government has done their yearly job of lighting up all the trees with light bulbs in the capital city Trivandrum, T.V channels are having the best time of their year with superstar-studded movies ready to rock the silverscreen…and the regular Malayali is all set for another four days of “THE FESTIVAL”.

athapoo at home

Onam is the festival where we celebrate plenitude and prosperity. Every Malayali gets gifted new clothes for Onam and it is with these fresh clothes and fresher minds that we start our celebrations.  This is what Wikipedia has to say about Onam:

Onam is an ancient festival which still survives in the Modern times. Kerala’s rice harvest festival and the festival of rain flowers which fell on the Malayalam month of Chingam celebrated the annual visit from pathalam (under world in Hindu myth) of King Maveli. Onam is unique since king Maveli is revered by people of Kerala from prehistory.

According to the legend, Kerala witnessed its golden era during the reign of King Mahabali. Everybody in the state was happy and prosperous and the king was highly regarded by his subjects. He was that much highly regarded among the subjects that even the Gods under Indra became jealous of Mahabali, they approached Mahavishnu claiming that Mahabali is now equivalent to an Indra. Since a world with two Indras represents imbalance, Mahavishnu assumed the form of a dwarf: the Vamana avatara and tricked him to Pathalam, the Underworld. However, as Mahabali is equal to an Indra, he is to wait until the next Yuga where he would be the Indra. In the meantime, with the grace of Mahavishnu, Mahabali visits his people on an annual basis. Mahavishnu serves Mahabali as a gatekeeper in the world of Pathalam as the Lord himself serves his greatest devotees.

It is this visit of Mahabali that is celebrated as Onam every year. People celebrate the festival in a grand way and impress upon their dear King that they are happy and wish him well.

The rich cultural heritage of Kerala comes out in its best form and spirit during the ten-day long festival. The most impressive part of Onam celebration is the grand feast called Onasadya, prepared on Thiruonam. It is a nine course meal consisting of 11 to 13 essential dishes. Onasadya is served on banana leaves and people sit on a mat laid on the floor to have the meal.

Another enchanting feature of Onam is Vallamkali, the Snake Boat Race, held on the river Pampa. It is a colourful sight to watch the decorated boat oared by hundreds of boatmen amidst chanting of songs and cheering by spectators.

The ten days of Onam has already begun…and we are all set. Onam came to SCT college of Engg with much aplomb and razzmatazz with the final year students going out of their way to do the athapoo every day: we first years of course had our own inter-class competitions on the twentieth. Games and the traditional “chenda vaadyam” rocked the whole college, and there was of course, a sumptuous onam sadya….

An onam collage

Well, we’re back from College now to enjoy Onam with family….and this promises to be another beautiful, exciting Onam which will Dazzle as always….

Quoting the ancient and traditional Malayalam song in English (thanks to our Wikipedia again):

When Maveli, our King, ruled the land,

All the people had equality.
And people were joyful and merry;
They were all free from harm.
There was neither anxiety nor sickness,
Death of the children was never even heard of,
There were no lies,
There was neither theft nor deceit,
And no one was false in speech either.
Measures and weights were right;
No one cheated or wronged his neighbor.
When Maveli, our King, ruled the land,
All the people formed one casteless race.

I wish every Malayali a fantastic Onam of splendor and joy!


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