Onam festival of prosperity

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Anupama Nair

India is home to many festivals. All festivals be it Holi, Diwali or Ganesh Chaturthi, all festivals are celebrated with pomp and splendor. Each and every state celebrates its own festivals. Onam is a festival celebrated in Kerala called as God's own country. August or September is that time of the year when the state is “exhilarated with trumpets, drums, elephants, boat races, dances, art, music, floral decorations, lights, colors, rituals and the delicious Onasadya without which the celebrations are obscure”. Since, Malayalis live everywhere, you can safely say Onam is a global festival. Onam is celebrated after Ganesh Chaturthi and before Shradiya Navratri.

According to Hindu belief, the devout king Prahalad had a grandson Mahabali who took over the three worlds by defeating the Devas. The Devas approached Lord Vishnu to help them in the battle against Mahabali, Vishnu had initially refused as he believed Mahabali was a good ruler and his devotee. Mahabali performed a Yajna after his victory over the Gods and took a vow to grant anyone any request. Lord Vishnu took this opportunity to test Mahabali's devotion and approached Mahabali in the avatar of a dwarf boy called Vamana.

The king offered everything he could to the boy, but Vamana refused and said one must not seek more than one's needs and all he needed was three-paces. Mahabali, although surprised by the boy's wish, agreed to grant it. Vamana grew and covered the land and water with one foot and the sky with another foot, now to place his third-foot Mahabali offered himself. Vamana trampled Mahabali down to Pathala, as he was pleased by his devotion offered him a boon to visit his land every year. The revisit of Mahabali every year is the festival of Onam.

Onam is welcomed with a diverse range of activities and celebrated with great pomp and enthusiasm. The onset of Onam is from the procession that starts from Thripunithara in Cochin. There is a parade that features the culture of Kerala through elephant marches, drum beats, festival flag hoisting, folk art forms, colorfully decorated floats that depict scenes from the Mahabharata and Ramayana. Historically, the procession path leads to the temple from Thripunithara that's dedicated to Vamana the avatar of Vishnu.

What is Onam without the ‘Onapookalam’, which is nothing but a floral carpet that's decorated with flowers and petals. It is filled with several varieties of flowers forming patterns on the floor of central entrances. It is a religious art that involves a lot of creativity to blend the colors of petals to form a floral art. Pookalam is very similar to Rangoli that's decorated by people in other parts of the country. There are Pookalam

What is any festival without food? The Sadya, meaning banquet in Malayalam, is a vegetarian meal that is served on a banana leaf. There are a variety of 29 dishes that are laid over the leaf with less or more number. The feast reflects the spirit of Onam with some tasty items such as “Rice, Sambar, Chips, Sharkaravaratti, Injipuli, Pappadam, Avial, Olan, Pickle, Dal, Thoran, Ghee, Rasam, Puliseri, Erisheri, Pachadi, Coconut Chutney, Moru and which ends with a sweet, savoury Payasam”.

In certain customs, a Palmyra tree covered with dry leaves surrounded by a wooden balustrade is erected in the temples. The tree is then lit with a torch that gets burned down to ashes symbolizing Mahabali's sacrifice. Another enjoyable custom is the swing slung from high branches, which plays an integral part in the rural areas. Young men and women sing Onapaatu and rock one another on the swings till they are tired. Onam celebration spans over 10 days with numerous festivities. It is observed in its pure traditional form. The first ten days of Onam are the most important which begins with Atham.

Though it is a Hindu festival, today it celebrated by all. In 2022, Onam is celebrated on 8th September. Happy Onam to one and all!

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