Some shared how they used to pluck flowers for ‘pookalam’ while a few talked about the virtual Onam celebrations. On Onam 2021, here’s a glimpse of the conversations with a few people from South India.
The time has come for Kerala to rejoice in happiness with its most awaited festival, Onam! The annual harvest festival of God’s own country commemorates the return of a mythical king, King Mahabali, which also acts as an opportunity for various communities to come together. The celebrations of Onam start on Atham day and go on for ten days till Thiruvonam day, which is considered the most auspicious day of the festival. This time, during Onam 2021, we talked to a few people from the Malayali community who shared their memorable stories from Onam.
Ann Maria Roy, Bhopal-Kerala
I was born in Kerala but was brought up in Bhopal. Being the only south Indian in a classroom of 60 students was hard. I used to feel like I belonged nowhere. I hated wearing the traditional ‘pattu paavada’ for events because I could feel as if I was standing out in the crowd. Onam was just an annual festival for me wherein I had to go to school like all the other days. Gradually, Keralites in Bhopal started forming Malayali Associations. I still remember, one day when I was in 4th grade and returned home from school, my parents were in a hurry, and my mother was asking me to change into ‘pattu paavada’.
I asked, if I could wear something casual, and she responded saying “All the kids there will be wearing this. Do you want to stand out?”. My eyes were lit. When we reached the venue, I was surprised to see thousands of people having so much in common with me. It was one week past the actual Onam. But we still managed to put on the ‘Pookalam’ (arrangement of flowers on the floor) and have the ‘Onasadhya’ (Kerala traditional feast). I could see kids who were in the same situation as mine. I felt better knowing people like me existed in every nook and corner of the world. It was at that moment when I realized the magical mantra of Onam. It unites us no matter where we live. Now, I have shifted back to Kerala. But I still believe that Onam celebrated in Bhopal were a little more fascinating.
Shruthi Kallottil, Bengaluru
Onam is typically a community festival where every Malayali irrespective of caste and religion come together in gratitude to celebrate the abundance in life. I have heard of many stories about how my grandfather and the whole family used to invite over 100 people, and host them for a feast, known as the ‘Onasadhya’. It was a beautiful display of harmony, togetherness, and love where the men and women worked shoulder to shoulder to cook with as many as 30 dishes that overwhelmed the senses. People of other cultures would also happily contribute to the eventful day.
But growing up in a nuclear family in a metropolitan city, I could not experience something similar. Fortunately, in 2018, I had the fortune to celebrate Onam with Bangalore Watersports Academy at Yele Mallapa Shetty lake. Families, sportsmen, and military personnel associated with the academy came together to celebrate Onam on the banks of this beautiful lake. I witnessed people from all cultures coming together by wearing the traditional Kerala attire, making the ‘Pookalam’, practicing the Thiruvathira dance (traditional dance), and performing a skit on King Mahabali. It was the most memorable Onam for me ever. Mothers helped serve the food, while fathers helped clean the premises. The beauty of it all was that I saw so much diversity and beauty that day which made it overwhelming just like the many dishes we find in an Onam sadhya. After all, I think life is meant to be celebrated together, and there is no better occasion than Onam. And nothing puts a smile on my face more than celebrating oneness, love, and kindness.
Athira J, Thiruvananthapuram
The word onam always takes me back to my childhood. The best part about Onam then was family get-togethers. My cousins and I used to wake up early on Onam days and roam around the neighborhood to gather flowers inspired by the videos we saw on TV. Even though we make the tiniest and messiest ‘Pookalam’ with it, we used to be so proud of our work. Little things gave so much satisfaction when some innocence was left in us. Meanwhile, the elderly females prepare the grand Onam feast (Yes, it was always the females who cooked!).
‘Oonjalaatam’ (playing on swings) was another thing we enjoyed. High swings were tied to the tallest tree at home when ‘Chingam’ (Malayalam New Year) begins. A person who swung the highest walked with pride! Travelling back to the present, Onam has just been confined to parcelled sadhya and umpteen dressed-up selfies. It is still special and gives joy but for me, the best ones I had were 20 years back! Onam is celebrated to welcome King Mahabali who comes to visit his people once in a year. Remembering the onam song, ‘Maveli naadu vaneedum kaalam, manushyarellarum onnu pole’ (During the reign of Maveli, all humans were considered equal).On this note, wishing you all a very happy and prosperous Onam . Hoping we all could live in a similar world soon where everyone of us is considered equal irrespective of the race, caste and religion.
Silpa Gopakumar, Thiruvananthapuram
During childhood, Onam at school was a thing to wait for. Several programs used to happen at the festival. Back at home, we used to have four “Onams” as we celebrated it at different places like at mother’s place one day, and then with dad’s family one day as likewise. Previously, we used to make ‘Sadhya’ at home. Then, it went out to caterers and after that, we started going out for buffets. Do you know, we give sadhya to elephants of our temple too!
When I stepped on to IT job, we used to have competitions at the office, including different games and cultural programs. And now, as the Coronavirus pandemic hit the country and we started working from home, Onam 2021 is virtual. But we do not let the spirit of the festival go. We have been organizing singing, dancing, and conducting virtual games. It’s the traditional ones with a twist. So, for me, it’s basically the events associated with one that I love and miss the most.
Sandhya Mohan, Thrissur
There are so many memories attached to Onam, and it’s really difficult to talk about just one. I remember how Onam used to be an event for getting together. Even in my college, we used to have these gatherings where we wore sarees. I still have those things alive in my memories. The worst for us was in 2018 when Kerala was devastated due to a flood. It caused severe damage to us. A lot of people died and also lost their homes. That was a tragic year during the time of Onam. And, it will always be unforgettable for us.
Mohana Charles, Kochi
One thing I love about Onam is that it is celebrated by all Keralites irrespective of their religion. I’m actually from Chennai and living here in Kochi for many years. Earlier, I used to adore how they celebrate Onam with lots of enthusiasm with families. Now, I have become a part of them. People here have flourished me with lots of love and unsurpassable kindness, which made me feel like it’s my native.
Onam is no more just a festival to me, it’s like an emotion. I have so many beautiful memories attached to this beautiful festival and place. My favorite part about Onam is ‘Pookalam’. We, all ladies, dress up, join together, make fun of each other and create our unique ‘Pookalam’! Then, look forward to the main part of Onam, which is ‘Onasadhya’. I am a sweet lover so, I love all variety of ‘Payasam’ (sweet dish) that is served with ‘Onasadhya’. I like to have my Payasam with pappad, which gives that sweet and crunchy taste. No matter how old I become or wherever I stay, Kerala and its people will always be close to my heart.
Today, on Onam 2021, we wish for peace among the communities in the society.