This is that time of the year for us Keralites (People from the state called Kerala in India) when you feel awful if you are away from your family. Well…I can attest to that!!
“Onam” is our State Harvest Festival which is celebrated for a duration of 10 days every year. This year, September 16th marks the 10th day (Most important day) of Onam. Although its a Hindu festival, its celebrated by all the people in Kerala.
There’s a mythological story associated with the origin of Onam. To start from, we, hindus have a long set of “Devas” aka Gods (supposedly the good one’s) and “ Asuras” aka demons (ooh…evil!!).
Once upon a time, our state was ruled by an extremely good and just King called “Mahabali” who happened to be…an Asura!! The people were happy and started worshiping the noble King. Needless to say, it hurt the egos of the Devas, who immediately ran to Lord Vishnu (One among the main three Gods in Hinduism) to whine. Lord Vishnu, taking pity on the Devas went to Earth in the form of a Vamana, a child Brahmin (Lord Vishnu has a penchant of taking different avatars in different times to fight evil. Its said that he’s already taken nine different forms so far and his last avatar will result in the end of the World.).
Coming back to the story, Vamana went to meet Mahabali, who invited him in and served him with a lot of respect and sincerity. Mahabali’s generosity was well-known and therefore Vamana asked for a mere three foot land. The ever generous King promised to give him the same.
Vamana, then proceeded to enlarge his body (duh..He’s a God..He can do anything!) and then measured the land with his foot. The first foot covered the entire earth and the second foot covered the entire heaven. When asked where he should put the third, the poor King kneeled down and asked him to put his foot on his head as there was nothing left to give. Vamana complied, which effectively sent the poor King to the Underworld. Seeing the generosity and devotion of the King, the pleased lord granted him a boon, whereby he can come to Kerala once in every year during Onam and see his people.
We celebrate his homecoming for 10 days by decorating our houses, arranging creative floral carpets (known as “pookalams” in Malayalam) on the porch, making our traditional vegetarian cuisines (known as “Onasadya”) and indulging in other cultural activities like thiruvathirakali (a traditional dance) and Pulikali (A game involving people dressed up as tigers and hunters).
Floral carpet aka Pookalam
We usually make very simple flower carpets at home by using only the flowers that we have around our house. Floral carpets like the one shown above are usually done during competitions where creativity and complexities bring in more value and well..the grand prize! The one below is my desperate creation last year at my workplace wherein I was promised manpower but ended up doing it alone.
The highlight is of course the food!! The traditional Onam feast aka Onasadya consist of about 12-13 side dishes served with rice on a plantain leaf. We (or rather my mom) try…..and come up with 6-7 dishes at home for the feast. Hee.
Onam is also the time when all of us come back home and celebrate it together with everyone in the family. To put it simply, Onam is all about unity, peace and harmony.
So, to all the Keralites out there, wish you all a very happy Onam!! To all others, if you guys get a chance to travel to Kerala, do it during the Onam. You can see and be a part of our rich cultural heritage!!