India is known for its celebrations and festivals, with its vibrant stage of colour and dance appealing to many across the world. In God’s Own Country, Kerala – in the Southern region of India – there is a famous festival that takes place once every year among the months of August and September. Its in fact probably my favourite amidst the celebrations I adore within my cultural background. As little connection as I do have with Kerala, or India, the celebration of Onam is one I do relish in. There are a couple of things that I particularly love about Onam, and if you have a love for the same, do read on to see if you can relate. 🙂 If not and you enjoy reading about festivals, here’s a little insight into this celebration!
I suppose all of my love for Onam goes back to my wonderful memories back in Malawi, where our small Malayali community would gather together on this wonderful occasion. In fact, for as long as I can remember, Mum and I have always kept the ‘Pookalam’ (a floral carpet of sorts) together at home, whether that was in India or in Malawi. Flowers were never an issue given the abundance of the ones in our garden, and it was such a pleasure for me to complete it before I would head off to school! Once I was in college I was fortunate enough to have that time off and therefore wherever I was in the world I made it a point to complete it. It’s not the same without her and pity the New Zealand weather doesn’t support me on that. Regardless though, the 10 days of creativity that would just spurn out of pure flower formations was truly gratifying for me. I remember waking up early on the actual celebration day with the community, and chopping up flowers and beginning to draw out the pattern. I can’t explain the utter satisfaction once its completed and looks like it does below: irrespective of it lasting only for several days its such an enthralling moment for me.
In order to celebrate Onam the community gathers together and provides a stage for various cultural dances and songs, as well as a whole bunch of games that bring the people together. Back in Malawi I remember we used to have quizzes in separate teams; sometimes according to the districts in Kerala or at random even- the competitive spirit would be immense on this day and full of life! Quizzes on movies, general knowledge, sometimes old songs… Playing charades and singing songs. The famous tug-of-war that would always be held with such zealousness! – Either between teams of men or between the women who were willing to risk their sarees. Its difficult to explain how much nostalgia there is for me with this festival, and I am so grateful that I have been able to be involved almost every year in the day.
I have one more thing to mention; don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about this. 🙂 Another well known attribution to Onam is of course, the customary ‘Sadya’. Who else has a love for the vegetarian dishes provided on this day? I know can’t be alone in this. Traditionally served on a banana leaf, the Onam Sadya is filled with delicious delights with usually 21 items, including two payasams and various other side dishes included, not only your curries. Its interesting that I personally actually never really had a liking for it if you go back to when I was about 14-15; more than often taking a small portion and leaving the rest to go. However I don’t know if its my shift to Dubai or my adaptation to try food more; the Onam sadya is now a definite favourite. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it! Particularly the ‘Palada payasam’, which is this milk-based dessert that is positively mouth-watering. If given the opportunity, do try this, and the Onam sadya itself. My best friend from the United States came with me once for this and completely fell for each and every dish that the sadya provides, much to my surprise, and completely cleaned the banana leaf! Its not worth missing upon, believe me. 🙂
These are purely my experiences. Maybe you’d have more to share! What’s your favourite part about Onam? I will be fairly feminine and say that mine is all of the above and the chance to wear a Kerala saree. 🙂 Google it; the elegance of a white and gold saree is undeniable. Anyways, to everyone who is celebrating this wonderful occasion, whether you’re with your family or celebrating on your own, or even perhaps for the first time – here’s me wishing you and hoping you have an incredible and prosperous Onam!