We all know Onam as the festival marked with spectacular theatrics and mouth-watering sadhyas when the floors are carpeted with Pookalam or floral motifs and the homes light up with glistening family bonds.
The festival holds an emotional connotation in the lives of all Keralites because it is not merely a 10 days period of celebrations but is also an aide-memoire of a rich cultural history to be proud of.
Despite my inherent Punjabi culture, I have always looked upon the festival of Onam with a sense of awe. The school I attended had a typically ‘south Indian’ management which made sure to engage in elaborate Onam festivities all through a period of 10 days. While living in Chandigarh, it is very easy to forget when exactly does Onam visit annually but one could tell it is that time of year when the school floors were seen carpeted with floral pookalams, or ‘rangolis’ as we call them in the north. The flowers were, however, just the beginning of the life-size commemorations that followed. The traditionally Malayali teachers bore a fresh glow in their Kasavu sarees and perfumed the dull classes with their fragrant gajras.
Even though the school didn’t have a canteen as such, sharing was a conventional school-time relic. Everyone got to taste a bit of the heavenly nine-course meal or the Ona Sadhya. I recall one of our very jolly teachers used to recite a classic Malayalam aphorism “Kaanam Vittum Onam Unnanam” while referring to the wholesome meal which meant even if you had to sell away everything, you cannot skip the Onam meal. Apart from the flavor of mouth-watering chutneys, the hearty afternoon dining also acts as means of garnishing family companionship and togetherness for Keralites all across the globe.
Source – Magicpin
The evening celebrations were followed by traditional dance performances and stunning theatrics. Locals of Kerala who were so far away from their hometown managed to make a home in the community halls of our school building. Folk songs were sung and prayers were offered, children engaged in fun games and I never missed an opportunity to dissolve myself in the rich cultural undertaking.
School is over now but the memories of Onam are everlasting. This year due to the widespread COVID-19 outbreak, community centers and schools have been shut down not only in Chandigarh but also in the native state. The locals of Kerala have been asked to carry out the celebrations on a minimal scale as community gatherings remain disposed of.
Even though the orders are disheartening, the natives are doing everything in their power to lift their spirits during this auspicious period for it only comes once a year. Although bonding with relatives remains a distant cry, people still look forward to a hearty Onam sadya with immediate family and friends. The intricate floral carpets of yellow and white flowers have also been designed in front of the houses.
While the world battles with the growing number of COVID-19 cases, let the festival of Onam serve as a reminder of all the things there are to be grateful for. Practice safety protocols and most importantly, don’t forget to have fun!