Onam, A Celebration Of Equality And Prosperity

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By Mangalorean.com Team – UAE with inputs from Malayalee Samajam ? Abu Dhabi & The Emirates Evening Post.

A dancer in brilliant costumes regales the crowd gathered for the festival

Abu Dhabi, Sept 13: Keralites world wide are getting ready to celebrate Thiruvonam (The return of King Mahabali) , which is symbolic of a mythical past of prosperity and plenty.

On September 15,  Keralites worldwide celebrate Thiruvonam (The return of King Mahabali). This joyous occasion, commemorates the halcyon days of king Mahabali?s egalitarian reign where all men were treated equal and no man was seen with a sad face, everyone was happy and it is believed that there was no room for fraud and falsehood, deceit or untruth.

A re-enactment of the scene, at the Malayali Samajam Abudhabi,  of  Vishnu in the form of Vamana (a brahmin boy)  meeting  King  Mahabali and  begging for alms.(L); “Kaikottikkali” The traditional kerala dance. In the evening during the Onam season, girls perform this dance around a traditional brass lamp.(R)

The story behind this great festival Onam:

This wise Mahabali an “asura” (demon)  who was loved dearly by his people once performed a spiritual ritual that gave him power over ? the earth, heaven and nether world (paathaalam). He then invited the wrath of Lord Indra, the King of Gods and ruler of heavens,  as he tried to extend his kingdom to heaven and nether world. Lord Indra approached Vishnu for advice , who assumed the form of Vamana (a bramhin boy) and met King  Mahabali begging for alms.

Women and children play on the swing decorated with flowers and this is also a part of this festival.

King Mahabali being a generous man told the boy that he would fulfill his  wishes  and he could ask him  anything he wanted. The boy immediately asked him for  three paces of land.  The king agreed and at this moment  Vamana grew in size. With his first step he covered the entire earth, including the oceans and mountains,  and with his second step he covered the heavens, including the sun, moon and the stars.  He could not find a place for the third step and asked King Mahabali where he could place his third step. King Mahabali immediately humbled himself and asked  Lord Vishnu to use his head.  Lord Vishnu did as the King asked him to and immediately sent him to the nether world.  At the same time he was pleased with the King Mahabali?s behaviour and so granted him a boon. Mahabali requested Vishnu to allow him to visit his people whom he really loved at least once a year.

“Pookkalam”  The flower mats are laid in front of every house to welcome King Mahabali.

Thus, during Onam each year, the time of plenty,  as it also marks the advent of the harvest season, the benevolent king, it is said, returns to his beloved land, to see his revered subjects. Onam is the celebration of  King Mahabali?s annual visit of homecoming.    Time and again the legendary tales surrounding this festival, have been told and retold, in millions of Keratlite homes. Yet each year the anticipation never wanes and the exhilarating moments slowly build up as the exuberance and joy associated with the festival reach a crescendo.

“Pulikali” also known as “kaduvakali”. This tiger dance is a common scene during this season. Men paint their bodies with bright yellow, red and black and dance to the tune of instruments like “udukku” and “thakil” and there is another man who plays the role of a hunter.(R)

Back in the State of Kerala the celebrations go on for a period of ten days. They have interesting activities lined up like vallamkali (boat race) ? this has become a major sport event back in Kerala India where long snake like boats are used and attracts domestic and global  tourists, pookkalam (floral decorations), and onapattu (onam songs and folk tales).  Back in Trissur, a vibrant procession of elephants is taken out from the famous Guruvayur temple, and people from all over India gather to watch Kathakali performers enact scenes from the epics, and people paint their faces with bright colours ? and dance  like tigers  to the drum beats.  Ladies take part in Oojal (swing) and this forms an integral part of the celebration.  Kaikottikkali or thiruvathirkali is another extremely elegant dance form perform by women who dress up in gold bordered traditional two piece attire called mundu and neriyathu.  It is appealing to watch the women dancing round in circles around the meticulously designed pookkalam at the centre of which is placed a  traditional brass lamp (nilavilakku).

The same festive spirit can be witnessed here in UAE too, where Keralites gear up to welcome Onam in regal style. As nostalgia seeps in for many concerns are also raised over the adaptation of customs and traditions to suit modern requirements.  People with families  in UAE  celebrate Onam by  arranging the house neatly,  having a small floral carpet at the entrance of the house, wearing new traditional dress, and an elaborate vegetarian meal at noon.  Bachelors prefer to celebrate Onam either in the restaurants which offer variety of  vegetarian meals or collectively in their sharing accommodation.

Kathakali Dancers are a part of this Onam festival too. Without them the festival is incomplete.

In addition to this there are competitions and celebrations held at  the Malayalee Samajam, Kerala Social Centre and Indian Social Centre.

Most of the  South Indian Restaurants in UAE display their Special Onam Menu at the main entrance of the hotel and people if interested need to place an order in advance. Thanks to the unity and love which these restaurants have for their people if not Onam would be a dream  and people would have to just recollect those moments from their memory lane.

“Vallamkali” A snake boat race is in progress. Hundreds of men row the boats to the beats of the drums & cymbals. – Every boat has a particular number and  an umbrella with gold coins and ornaments hanging . This shows the affluence of the family owning that boat.(L); Caparisoned elephants take part in the spectacular procession.(R)

Onam continues to be celebrated by Keralites all over the globe and it is nice to note that even the youth are aware of the significance of such festivals. As long as the celebration continues the spirit of the festival too will remain in the hearts and minds of all those who partake in it.  It is celebrated with equal fervour irrespective of religion, caste, creed, and colour.  That is the beauty of most of the Indian festivals a land where there is unity in diversity.

Mangalorean.com wishes all its readers its heartiest Onam Greetings!


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