Shah triggers row with ‘Vaman’ tweet on Onam eve

Amit Shah’s tweet on Onam.   | Photo Credit: HANDOUT_E_MAIL

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Amit Shah has triggered a fresh controversy over the legacy of Onam, depicting the primarily harvest festival of Kerala as ‘Vaman Jayanti’.

Mr. Shah’s tweet and Facebook post comes close on the heels of Kesari, the Malayalam mouthpiece of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), publishing a cover story contending that Onam marks the celebrtion of the birth of Vamana, one of the avatars of Mahavishnu, and not the homecoming of Mahabali, the king of the legends who is believed to have ruled over Kerala during a bygone golden era.

Mr. Shah tweeted on Tuesday, “Vaman Avatar Bhagavan Vishnu Ka Panchava Avatar/Samast Deshvasiyom ko Vaman Jayanti ki Hardik Shubhkaamanaayem”. His post also carried a picture of the mythical Vamana with his left foot on King Mahabali’s head, about to push him into the netherworld. The author of the Kesari article had come up with the argument that there is no reference or explanation anywhere in mythology or epics to support the story that Mahabali was pushed to the netherworld by Vamana or about his annual homecoming in the Malayalam month of Chingam.

Reacting to the development, social critic Civic Chandran said, “Onam was once an upper caste festival, but later on the subaltern classes too began celebrating it, giving significance to a black Maveli. The Sangh Parivar is trying to counter this revival”.

Leaders of both the CPI(M) and Congress have come strongly against Mr. Shah’s tweet and its implied message. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said Mr. Shah’s post was intended to humiliate Malayalis and their festival, which celebrated a syncretic culture and egalitarian society. If he has any propriety, Mr. Shah should withdraw his post and tender an apology, he said.

Leader of the Opposition Ramesh Chennithala said Mr. Shah’s post was the outcome of a conspiracy to give Onam an upper-caste dimension. Keralities would not forgive him for his attempt to give a twist to the popular belief that Onam marked the homecoming of King Mahabali. CPI(M) State secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan and KPCC president V.M. Sudheeran have also come out against the post.

However, BJP State president Kummanam Rajasekharan, while downplaying the issue, said that people of Kerala also worshipped Vamana. “Thousands of people have been worshipping Thrikkakara Temple, one of the temples dedicated to Lord Vamana. Vamana jayanti is complementary and supplementary to Onam celebrations and not contradictory,” he said.

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