The Onam festival is revered by the whole of Kerala, it’s observed all over diverse India. One of the biggest festivals celebrated in Kerala, it is rooted in history and tradition as it looks back at the dominant agrarian culture of the state and according to legends marks King Mahabali’s homecoming. Celebrated by all Malayalees, irrespective of their caste or religion with a set of rituals over a period of 10 days. These 10 days are filled with feasting, indulging in boat-racing, music and dancing to welcome their king. A traditional meal known as ‘Sadya’ is prepared, which includes delicious home-cooked food served on banana leaves and the sweet Payasam which are the most common delicacies of Onam. An age-old commemoration that dates back to 800 AD is still intact in present-day India. We ask some young Malayalee Puneites about what Onam means to them and their plans for this festive season.
For Swetha Raghunath, being away from Kerala is a little disheartening but she tries bringing the traditions and rituals to her home in Pune. “For me, Onam is all about friends and family coming together. It is the one time in the year when everyone can reconnect and go back to their roots. This Onam, we have decided to introduce some competitions such as making everyone sing Malayalam songs and the youngsters will perform a traditional dance called the Kaikottikali,” she explains enthusiastically. The Kaikottikali dance is one of the most popular South Indian dances from the Hindu communities of the state of Kerala. It is a dance performed mainly by women during Onam. Another ritual without which Onam is incomplete is the preparation of the traditional meal known as Sadya. A feast served typically on a banana leaf, with a mix of traditional Keralan dishes.
For Vidya Unnithan, the preparation of Sadya is a grand affair. At home we make rice and almost 14 vegetables. I get the groceries every year for this and help out in the kitchen as it is a little hard to master the art of making the traditional dishes,” she explains. Part of the celebrations at her home also involve preparing an extra banana leaf which is kept aside for King Mahabali. “We youngsters find the legendary tales funny yet we like to take part in the rituals. Also, for us there are just two major festivals and that’s why we eagerly look forward to Onam,” smiles Unnithan.
Those studying away from home, rely on Malayalee communities in the city or relatives residing here to celebrate the occasion. Krishna Muralidharah, a student living in Pune, plans on visiting her uncle’s home since she cannot be with family. “Onam is a grand affair in Kerala, I would look forward to the 10 day holidays we would get from school. This year I am in Pune, but I will still celebrate it. In college, we all dress up in the traditional attire and host a sadya and then I will visit my uncle’s home and help in decorating the Pookkalam (rangoli with flowers),” says Muralidharah.
For Gokul Nair, a working professional, it has been a long time since he has been home for Onam. “No matter how busy I am on the day of Onam, even if I have to work I make sure I dress up in the traditional attire. For me, everyone wearing the same clothes represents a sign of unity and this gives me immense happiness,” beams Nair.
Despite being away from home or even in today’s fast-paced world, youngsters are eager to keep their values and traditions alive. Maybe, this is why India is still known as such a culturally diverse country.
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