Another ‘Onam Days’ are at the brink. The celebrations has started all over the city. The people are busy emptying their wallets and buying goodies with the ‘Onam’ Offers. I feel like all were waiting just for this moment to buy new things to their home, to make the best out of the ‘Onam discounts and offers’.
For me, Onam picture from my child hood days often had more colors than today. I still can collect those fresh memories from my school days. My Grand mother ,whose house is adjacent to my house, used to decorate the front of her house with “Atham”, an arrangement with flowers. The Atham is decorated on all ten days of the Onam festival, the last day being the grand one. The D day also known as ‘Thiruonam’, features a superb ‘Atham’ a.k.a ‘Pookkalam’ on the courtyard. My uncle buys more flowers , in different colors. The final result is an elegant flower pattern.
Beautiful moments in Onam cannot be remembered without the walk through the city night. During Onam festival, Government decorates all the buildings and the palace grounds at ‘Kanakakkunnu’ . The road will be fully crowded and the people will be moving like a slow stream. I will walking holding my uncle’s hand, face angles atop the building walls and the amusements arranged along the road.
Painful moments also occurred twice during my Childhood. I was aged 3 or 4 then. I was riding on the carrier behind my uncle’s bicycle. We went to the junction where big guys in our locality create a big ‘Atham’ . It was a massive flower decoration with lots and lots of flowers. It was a great treat for eyes. After that, while we were returning home, the pain of Onam happened. As we were about reach back to home, the cycle fell to a massive gutter, I was standing on the back carrier of the cycle and holding on to the Uncle’s back. The violent shake made my foot slip and my ankle got twisted between the cycle rim. The pain lasted for the entire Onam vacation and made it the one of the worst Onam ever of my life.
Let me come back to the present. Now, the Onam time has shifted from the celebration of equableness, fullness and the prosperity. Now, the entire celebration is shifted to celebration of money. The age of commercialization and the spendthrift society has moved away from the old ethics. Now, Onam is a time to spend money and the city is full of options to spend it. The textile, electronics, all kinds of commodities that we can imagine is available with lots of discounts and offers associated with it. The offers draw people and a great deal of business happens during this time. I think this is the peek business time in Kerala. Even I too became the part of the Shopping festival. My wife and myself strolled through the stalls in palace grounds and was really fascinated by the handicraft works by the rural people and the material collections made out of bamboo. I too made a few purchases . The collection of home made pickles from Rajasthan was irresistible. I also bought a pair of Sony rechargeable battery and its charger for my ‘Canon cyber shot’. My week end plans for a cross Kerala trip do demands the camera to be ready.
For the non Indian’s readers for the blog, let me include a brief description of the Onam festival and the legend.
A long long time ago, an Asura (demon) king called Mahabali ruled Kerala. He was a wise, benevolent and judicious ruler and beloved of his subjects. Soon his fame as an able king began to spread far and wide, but when he extended his rule to the heavens and the netherworld, the gods felt challenged and began to fear his growing powers. Presuming that he might become over-powerful, Aditi, the mother of Devas pleaded with Lord Vishnu to curtail Mahabali’s powers.
Vishnu transformed himself into a dwarf called Vamana and approached Mahabali while he was performing a yajna and asked for alms. Pleased with the dwarf brahmin’s wisdom, Mahabali granted him a wish. The Emperor’s preceptor, Sukracharya warned him against making the gift, for he realized that the seeker was no ordinary person. But the Emperor’s kingly ego was boosted to think that God had asked him for a favor. So he firmly declared that there is no greater sin than going back on one’s promise. He kept his word.
The Vamana asked for a simple gift — three paces of land — and the king agreed to it. Vishnu in the guise of Vamana then increased his stature and with the first step covered the sky, blotting out the stars, and with the second, straddled the netherworld. Realising that Vamana’s third step will destroy the earth, Mahabali offered his head as the last step.
Vishnu’s fatal third step pushed him to the netherworld, but before banishing him to the underworld Vishnu granted him a boon. Since he was attached to his kingdom and his people, he was allowed to return once a year from exile. Onam is the celebration that marks the homecoming of King Mahabali. It is the day when a grateful Kerala pays a glorious tribute to the memory of this benign king who gave his all for his subjects.