Onam Ramblings – 1

You can’t feel anything but blue, for Onam is just two days away. Thanks to Eid break, I do have holidays too. Airlines to India have an uncanny knack of doubling, trebling or as of now, quadrupling air fares during summer, holiday and festive seasons. Though the governments, state and centre, eagerly welcome remittances (the more, the merrier – much valued foreign currency!) everyone including the national airlines milk expats high and dry, with mercurial rise in airfares. So love as much as I would, I don’t think I will go home despite holidays. So, what will I do for Onam? Reminisce, I suppose is in order. And nostalgia is going to be the predominant mood.

If there is a festival that cuts across barriers of caste, creed, community, religion and gender, that is Onam. While most festivals in various states of India, based on the lunar calendar, are celebrated in different names mostly on same days, Onam is one that is entirely different. For example, Vishu in Kerala is the new year celebration which is known in other states in varied names – Ugadi, Gudi Padwa, Bihu,  Baisakhi and so on. To my knowledge, (I could be wrong – if there is, do let me know) there’s no other festival similar to Onam. It is nonpareil! 🙂

Onam is the festival that celebrates the annual return of the Asura King, Mahabali. Myths celebrate the rule of Mahabali (Maveli) as one of absolute bliss and prosperity. A particular song that describes the times translates to:

During times that Maveli ruled
Equal were all people treated
Times were of happiness
No one had to face travails
Sorrows, diseases weren’t there
Children’s deaths were unheard
No baddies were ever spotted
The land only had the good
No thefts and deceptions
Nor did any speak lies
All (measuring) weights and scales were right
And there was no chicanery.

If this is not an Utopia, what is? Probably, Mahabali was the first socialist leader! He was benevolent, wise, judicious as well as extremely generous. So much so that the Gods felt quite envious and insecure about his popularity. The mother of Gods, Aditi, approached Lord Vishnu (the Preserver in the Hindu Trinity and whom Mahabali was an ardent devotee of) and sought His assistance. Being of very charitable disposition, Mahabali was approached by Lord Vishnu in the guise of a brahmin dwarf or Vamana. The Vamana requested for some land. Mahabali gladly gave what was asked. The King’s preceptor, Shukracharya, sensed the identity of the visitor and warned Mahabali. But his word was sacred to Mahabali. Vamana grew in size and with his first step measured Heaven. With the second, he apportioned the Netherworld. The third step would be the earth and knowing that this would destroy the Earth, Mahabali offered his head as the last step. Pleased by the King’s humility and integrity, the Vamana granted him a boon. Mahabali is said to requested that he be permitted to visit his subjects every year in the lunar month of Chingam (falls in August – September). Onam marks the visit of Mahabali’s homecoming.

onappookkal

Onappookkal – Onam flowers (from top left clockwise): Mukkutti (Sikerpud), Hanuman Kireedom (Red Pagoda Plant0, Thumba Poo (Slitwort)

No wonder then that the Onam continues to be a festival celebrated by all alike, irrespective of faiths! While there are concerted efforts at celebrating Vamana’s birthday (Jayanthi) in place of Mahabali’s visit, from some quarters, I strongly believe that it will always be a celebration about Mahabali, than Vamana. Sometimes even in losing, you win! That’s what happened to the genial Mahabali. He lost his Kingdom and got relegated to the Netherworld, yet, he gained eternity. The rains are over. Nature beckons. The blue skies, the lush greenery, the enchanting landscapes and the smiling flowers all seem to be decked for the festive time. And the eager populace (Keralites) to this day await his visit with much joy and celebration!:)

P.S: My next post will be about how Onam is celebrated at home… How I miss being home!! 😦 

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