Life & Style

Many colours of Onam celebrations from across Kerala

Clay figures arranged in a Namboothiri household   | Photo Credit: PM Neelakandan

Chingam(August-September), the first month of Malayalam calendar, brings in Onam, the 10-day festival. Beginning with the Atham, it concludes on the 10th day, Thiruvonam. While the pookkalams (floral carpets) and Onasadya (the grand feast) are integral to the festival, celebrations at home vary from region to region and even within the same community.

Say it with flowers

In Central and North Kerala, pookkalams (floral carpets) are laid in circles on the ground. Prior to that, the area earmarked for the pookkalam is plastered with cowdung. However, in certain households flowers are arranged on a raised and layered bed of sand, resembling a pyramid. “On Atham, when Mahabali is believed to start his journey to visit his former subjects, yellow flowers are used,” says Manjusha Pisharody, a food blogger and history buff from Palakkad. Namboothiri families around Kumaranelloor in Kottayam, use yellow flowers of pumpkin on that day, says Vijayasree Vasan, a homemaker. A leaf of tulsi (holy basil) and flowers of thumba (Leucas aspera or Ceylon slitwort) flowers are placed at the centre of the pookkalam. There is also a practice to keep a small ball of cow dung in the middle of pookkalam with thumba and mukutti (little weed plant) flowers and tulsi leaf on top of it.

Arranging clay figures near the pookkalam

Arranging clay figures near the pookkalam   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

As days pass by, the number of circles and varieties of flowers increase. On the seventh day, the pookkalam is made in the shape of a square. “On the next day, we arrange a trail of flowers, from the gate to the pookkalam. The biggest pookkalam is on the penultimate day of Onam. There is no floral carpet on the day of Thiruvonam,” she adds.

Says Suresh Ezhuvanthala, a teacher and folklore exponent from Cherpulassery in Palakkad district, “In my community [Ashari], we make pookkalams only till the eighth day. After that we make three clay figures, which are called ‘Poorada unnikal’.”

Bring home the deity

Onathappan, Thrikkakara Appan or Mathevar are pyramid-shaped figures made of clay or sand and placed near the pookkalam, representing Vamana and Mahabali. It is placed near the pookkalam from on the eighth and ninth day. Placed on banana leaves or raised platforms, they are adorned with rice flour paste and flowers. “We also keep ‘muthiyamma’ and ‘mootharu’, clay figures representing an aged couple, along with models of traditional grinding stones such as ammikkallu, aattukallu and ural, and other kitchen implements along with cattle, plough etc,” says Vijayasree.

In certain Namboothiri illams (traditional homes of the community) of Palakkad and Malappuram, several Mathevars are made, starting with five and going up to 45 by Thiruvonam. “As new ones are made, old ones are removed and arranged in such a way to indicate that they are going out of the house. It is a sight to behold as they are placed in rows from the nadumuttam (open courtyard) to the entrance of house. No pookkalams are laid at these households,” Suresh says.

Mathever arranged near Pookkalam

Mathever arranged near Pookkalam   | Photo Credit: Manjusha Pisharody

However, in some Namboothiri homes of Kondotti, Thenhipalam, and Nilambur in Malappuram, pookkalams are important with the Mathevar kept on a banana leaf placed in its centre. With one Mathevar being made everyday, there will be 10 of them by Thiruvonam. Meanwhile, in parts of Central Kerala, instead of making clay figures of Mahabali, the figure of the king is drawn on sand and it is filled ith slices of the thumba plant.

Mathevars are propitiated with pujas and offerings, such as Poovada (steamed rice patty), bananas (ripe or boiled) and pappadam. But the concept of Mathevar is absent in most of the southern districts of Kerala.

Festivities continue

The 16th day after Thiruvonam is observed as Pathinaaram Makam. A huge clay figure called Makathadiyan (thadiyan means fat man), is made and a grand feast is prepared. This is still followed by many in Central as well as in North Kerala. by most of the communities. “I have heard that flowers used to be laid till Makam,” says Manjusha.

Play on

Women take part in ‘Pennukettykkali’ or ‘Pennirakkal’ at Nhangattiri in Palakkad

Women take part in ‘Pennukettykkali’ or ‘Pennirakkal’ at Nhangattiri in Palakkad   | Photo Credit: Suresh Ezhuvanthala

Even though most of the traditional games associated with Onam have disappeared, a few of them continue to be played. At Nhangattiri in Palakkad, women take part in games such as ‘Pennukettykkali’ or ‘Pennirakkal’ and Kaikottikali. Thumbithullal, Chattipanthu kali, Erupanthu kali and Thalama are among other games that are played. Onathallu, a fight with bare hands, has two variations. In parts of Thrissur, it is a real physical fight, where as at Pallassana in Palakkad, Onathallu or Avittathallu, is enactment of war-like scenes.

Multiple Onam

Thiruvonam in the month of Karkkadakam, in the Malayalam calendar, is observed as Pilleronam, the Onam for kids (piller means children). A feast is prepared with four curries — erissery, pulissery, olan and payasam. In some homes, pookkalams are laid from this day onwards. Bhagavathy Onam is celebrated with a sadya on Thiruvonam day of Kanni, the month that follows Chingam.

Kaikkottikkali at Nhangattiri in Palakkad

Kaikkottikkali at Nhangattiri in Palakkad   | Photo Credit: Suresh Ezhuvanthala

Dessert for the day

Namboothiri households also have the practice of preparing specific dishes such as modakam and kozhukutta (dumplings with rice flour and jaggery) aval nanachathu (sweet rice flakes), banana wafers and sharkkaravaratti on different days. Different payasams are prepared from the fifth day onwards. Uthrattathi is the day when girls who got married off come home. So the same dishes as that of Thiruvonam day is spread out on this day, Vijayasree explains.

On song

Thuyiluranarthu Pattu at a house in Palakkad district

Thuyiluranarthu Pattu at a house in Palakkad district   | Photo Credit: Suresh Ezhuvanthala

In several regions of north Kerala, members of the Panan community, come home in the wee hours of Thiruvonam and render Thuyilunarthu pattu. “They sing and play the thudi (a percussion instrument) and the chenda. Their song is for the prosperity and happiness of the families, who, in turn gift them new clothes, rice, money, and food. This is still practised in Kezhoor and nearby areas in Palakkad,” says Suresh, who has documented the songs of the community.

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Printable version | Oct 29, 2020 4:23:26 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/many-colours-of-onam-celebrations-in-kerala/article32471725.ece

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