12 September, 2008

Happy Onam !!

As does any other festival, Onam too brings with it hordes of childhood memories. The very word Onam conjures up memories that were colorful, festive and absolute fun. Onam was a time of the year when, for the most part, the whole family came together, gathered and celebrated.

Onam festivities began ten days before the Thiruonam star day (the most important day of the festivities). Pookalams (flower decorations) would be laid out in the prayer room as well as on the doorsteps of each and every household. What started on the first day of the Onam festivities – the Atham day – would see its grand culmination on Thiruonam day – when the Pookalams would be most elaborate, most complicated designwise and most colorful.

Early memories etched in my mind include getting up very early on all of these ten days and going flower hunting with my friends. A basket clutched in one hand or even a plastic bag, we would set out on our “flower hunt”. Competitors would be many – paatis (grandmoms) in their madisaars (traditional style of wearing a sari among the TamBrahms), uncles in their mundus (South Indian version of lungis – mundus are white in color) tied half mast (meaning folded up around their knees) and of course, many other kids – all with a common goal – that to make sure that their flower baskets or plastic bags get filled with as many varieties and as many flowers as possible.

More the flowers, the more variety one could infuse in the pookalam at one’s doorstep. And after all the Pookalams were done, in the afternoon – a whole horde of us kids would circulate from doorstep to doorstep – ooohhhing and aaahhing at the riot of flower induced colors at the doorsteps. To be very honest, there used to be some moments of critiquing too ! :).

And I do remember feeling full to the point of bursting after the Sadhya (feast) on Onam day. It was in the kitchen today that I realized that despite the fact that it has been many years since there’s been a traditional banana leaf feast, the taste of such feasts and the aromas that used to waft out of the kitchen on festival days are forever etched in memory. That distinctive aroma of plaintains being steamed, that lovely mouthwatering whiff of the milk being reduced in quantity for the pal payasam (kheer), the smoke from the oil being heated for frying pappadams, the crispness and warmth of freshly fried banana chips …….

It was during my college years that I found solace in The Narayaneeyam. During these Narayaneeyam sessions, our teacher used to narrate to us stories – stories from Indian mythology – and he used to take great pains in explaining to us the history behind each festival and the significance of how these festivals are celebrated.

He had explained to us, the significance and history of the festival of Onam in such a simple manner that it too has been etched onto the pages of my memory book.

ThiruOnam is celebrated in the Chingam month in the Malayalam Calendar. Onam is essentially a ceremony, a festival of Thanksgiving for a plentiful, bountiful harvest. Onam is also the celebration of the return of King Mahabali.

Legend has it that King Mahabali ruled over Kerala during the Golden Age. The Golden Age before caste and the caste system existed. The Golden Age when all people were considered equal.

The King was greatly respected in his kingdom and was considered to be wise and judicious. It is said that Kerala witnessed its golden era in the reign of King Mahabali. Everybody was happy in the kingdom, there was no discrimination on the basis of caste or class. Rich and poor were equally treated. There was neither crime, nor corruption. People did not even lock their doors, as there were no thieves in that kingdom. There was no poverty, sorrow or disease in the reign of King Mahabali and everybody was happy and content.

His bravery and strength of character earned him the title of "Mahabali Chakravathy" or Mahabali - the King of Kings.

To curb the growing reign of Mahabali and maintain their own supremacy, Aditi, the mother of Gods sought the help of Lord Vishnu (the preserver in the Hindu trinity) whom Mahabali worshiped.

It was said Mahabali was very generous and charitable. Whenever anybody approached him for help or requested for anything he always granted the request. To test the King, Lord Vishnu disguised himself as a dwarf and a poor Brahmin called Vamana. He came to the Kingdom of Mahabali, just after Mahabali performed his morning prayers and was preparing to grant boons to Brahmins.

Disguised as Vamana, Vishnu said he was a poor Brahmin and asked for a piece of land. The generous King said he could have as much land as he wanted. The Brahmin said that he just wanted as much land as could be covered by three of his footsteps. The King was surprised to hear this, but agreed.

A learned adviser of the King, Shukracharya sensed that Vamana was not an ordinary person and warned the King against making the promise. But the generous King replied that it would be a sin for a King to go back on his words. The King could not imagine that the dwarf Brahmin was Lord Vishnu himself.

Just as King Mahabali agreed to grant the land, Vamana began to expand and eventually increased himself to cosmic proportions. With his first step, Vamana covered the whole of earth and with the other step he covered the whole of the skies. He then asked King Mahabali where the space was, for him to place his third footstep.

The King realised that Vamana was no ordinary Brahmin and his third step would destroy the earth. Mahabali with folded hands bowed before Vamana and asked him to place his last step on his head so that he could keep the promise and at the same time ensure that the earth would not be destroyed. Vamana placed his foot on the head of the King, which pushed him to patala, the nether world. There the King Mahabali requested Vamana to reveal his true identity. Lord Vishnu then appeared before the King in his person.

Mahabali was so attached to his Kingdom and people that he requested that he be allowed to visit Kerala once in a year. Lord Vishnu was moved by the Kings nobility and was pleased to grant the wish.

It is the day of the visit of King Mahabali to Kerala that is celebrated as Onam every year. The festival is celebrated as a tribute to the sacrifice of King Mahabali. Every year people make elaborate preparations to welcome their King whom they affectionately call Onathappan. Thiruvonam is the biggest and the most important day of this festival. It is believed that King Mahabali visits his people on Thiruvonam day.

This Onam day, 12th September 2008, I leave you with pictures of the Pookalam at The Krishnans' ..........

Here's wishing one and all a very happy Onam !!

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20 voice(s) said so:

dipali said...

Onam greetings, Gauri and family.
You brought back memories of our years in Kerala, and all the fun and festivities of Onam. And of course the delicious Ona sadya.

Keshi said...

Onam greetings to ya sweet Gauri and family! :)

Lovely pics....so do u cook/make Indian sweets for this? I love em!


Maggie said...

Happy Onam! The pookalam is beautiful! Hope Abhay's doing better now?

--xh-- said...

wish you and your family a very very happy Onam... hrudayam niranja onasamsakal :-)

(one of my blogfriends asked me what is onam, and instead of explaining it to her, i gave her link to your page :-D )

the mad momma said...

happy onam to you and yours

Mama - Mia said...

Happy Onam!! :)

that was a beautiful post like always!! :)



Swati said...

Happy Onam ..go collect your award

Altoid said...

Never knew this story about Onam G! Thanks for sharing. Oh and Happy Onam to you and yours :-)

rantravereflect/ jane said...

HAPPY ONAM sweetheart,, :)
geeee.. read the story before, but it was nice reading it again..

n i couldn't help but notice those 2 cutelil' kids' picz :)
alli could saw was awwwwwww :)
are their real names mac n pecan?

Subhashree said...

Happy Onam Gauri. The Pookalam looks beautiful.

Upsi said...

That pookalam of yours is simple, but tatstefully done. Loved it, Gauri.

Such a happy day.

Happy Onam again!

choxbox said...

Happy Onam Gauri!

Beautiful Pookalam!

Preethi said...

Lovely Pookalam... Happy Onam!!

Neera said...

A very happy Onam to you and your family. I always get inspired by the way you celebrate festivals so beautifully with your familu.

And I hope Abhay is feeling better now.

choxbox said...

something for you on my blog..

Rohini said...

Belated Onam wishes!!! Loved the Rakhi btw...

K 3 said...

Great pookalam! Happy Onam to you and family.

Nat said...

something for u on ma blog. pliss to accept.

Jayashree said...

Hope you had a wonderful Onam, Gauri.

Gauri said...

@ All : Thank you so much for your warm wishes :).