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Updated: August 28, 2012 10:39 IST

Frenzied shopping at Onam fairs

Kavya Kadame
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Bangalore Malayalis prepare for the festival tomorrow

Like every year, this time too the premises of the Jubilee School in Dooravaninagar are bustling with activity. Malayalis in K.R. Puram’s periphery, and even from across the city, have come here to shop at the Onam Chantha (market), organised here by the Kerala Samajam from August 25 to 28.

Over a dozen stalls sell the ubiquitous banana and tapioca chips — characterised by the aroma of coconut oil — as well as other classic Kerala delicacies associated with Onam.

Also flying off the makeshift shelves are the vegetables such as pumpkin, yam, ashgourd, cucumber, nendran banana and so on. And must-haves in the shopping bag are pappadoms and the ada for the payasam.

On the non-gastronomic side are stalls selling gifts and artefacts and traditional attire, including the classic off-white and gold saris and dress material. Most of the stalls offer a 10 to 20 per cent discount. “After all, it’s festival time,” says V. Devanand, who sells readymade garments here.

Colourful run-up

Onam celebrations began last week on the day of Atham, and every homesick Malayali’s house greeted visitors with a floral mandala, the pookkalam. Kerala’s biggest festival, which coincides with the harvest, spread over 10 days, leading to the biggie, falls on August 29 this year.

“This festival is significant in that it is celebrated by the people of all religions. Onam, for us, is like a State festival,” says Dennis Paul, educational secretary of Kerala Samajam. His organisation has planned several competitions in pookkalam, chess, mimicry, fancy dress, dance and music.

“We have organised the chantha so the Malayalis [who haven’t gone to Kerala] can feel at home,” Mr. Paul added.

Samajam general secretary Muralidharan Nair says Onam was a harvest festival in the good old days when agriculture was a prime occupation. “But today it is like any other festival which is celebrated colourfully.”

The feast

All that frenzied shopping at the chantha is fundamentally for the Onasadya on the day of the Thiruvonam. It is an appetising meal served on a plantain leaf on the day of Thiruvonam. “In our home, we prepare more than 60 items. Palada payasam is a special attraction for this festival,” says T.V. Priya, IBM employee who was there at the Kerala Samajam to take part in the pookkalam competition.

So what was her design? The face of a Kathakali artiste.

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