Onam is an amazing socialist concept of the Keralities. Deftly woven into mythology linked to the ‘socialist’ ruler of the land, Mahabali, this quintessentially agrarian festival of the Malayalees upholds the significance of equality, collectivism, truthfulness, and justice. It is celebrated soon after the harvest season.
At the same time, Onam brings to the people’s mind the vision of utopia, while reminding the present-day rulers of the glory of socialism that the land enjoyed once upon a time. Of late, it has evolved into a national festival of all the Malayalees, irrespective of their religious affiliation. Wherever they are, they celebrate it during August-September, not necessarily on the particular day of Onam.
On the other hand, the concept of Onam has served to enrich the folk perceptions and forms a remarkable rivulet of Malayalam literature.
Traditionally, decorating homes with flowers during Onam has been a kind of sport activity for the teens and kinds in joint families. But these days, even in Kerala, more often than not ‘event management groups’ are commissioned to do it. Shopping festivals are being conducted at the behest of government. All these trends speak volumes not only of the growing interest in Onam but also the distortions that have crept into the celebrations.
Against this backdrop, the book under review, which presents a study into the various anthropological elements of Onam, makes interesting reading. The different cultural practices that culminated into a national festival are discussed. The gradual ‘Aryanisation’ of Dravidian notions of Onam is also clearly discernible in the work.
MALAYALIYDE BHOOTHAKALANGAL - Onavum Samoohyabhavanalokavum: P. Ranjith; Current Books, Thrissur-680 001. Price: Rs.150.