An Onam that erases pandemic blues

Onam marks the apogee of the auspicious first month of the Malayalam Calendar, Chingam

September 07, 2022 08:05 pm | Updated September 08, 2022 12:38 pm IST - Thiruvananthapuram

Despite intermittent rains, Kozhikode’s famed SM Street witnessed a huge turnout on the eve of Thiruonam on Wednesday.

Despite intermittent rains, Kozhikode’s famed SM Street witnessed a huge turnout on the eve of Thiruonam on Wednesday. | Photo Credit: K. Ragesh

The rain has seemingly abated, raising hope that weather might not play spoilsport on the much-anticipated Thiruonam day on September 8.

Onam marks the apogee of the auspicious first month of the Malayalam Calendar, Chingam. The festival is a major cultural and social event in the State's calendar and, for long, emblematic of Kerala's secular and inclusive heritage. In a considerable measure, Onam transcends religious, economic and regional differences.

Malayalis celebrate the day with friends and families fortified by a sumptuous traditional lunch spread on banana leaves. Tug-of-war, pole climbing, arm wrestling, and other feats of strength mark the day.

The legend

The festival celebrates the return from exile of the mythical Mahabali, an asura king banished by gods to the netherworld out of envy for his populist and even-handed rule. The lore has it that Kerala bedecks itself to hail the return of its tragic fairy tale king during Onam.

According to legend, Mahabali is fated to return to the netherworld after a joyful day with his subjects. The ubiquitous floral patterns adorning the patio of homes during Onam signal "Mahabali's arrival". They are also a mark of his welcome. Onam also harks back to the legend of an imaginary egalitarian, prosperous and utopian Kerala society under Mahabali's rule.

Onam greetings

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan's Onam greetings echoed the popular festival's legendary origins. "Onam proclaims the oneness of the people. It promotes the never-dying spirit of equality and prosperity", he said. Governor Arif Mohammed Khan and Leader of the Opposition V. D. Satheesan greeted Keralites on the occasion.

Also read: Mahabali and the pappadam — a speculative flashback

A different Onam

Saddled by debt and loss of livelihood, people reckoned Onam during the pandemic years as an extravagant annual event to pull through rather than celebrate. However, the seasonal ad blitz on television indicates that this year's Onam is starkly different. Television commercials are filled with images of well-turned-out shoppers, friends and families celebrating Onam with gusto in traditional environs.

The video-chat Onam gatherings that marked the COVID-19 years have given way to joyous family reunions. The pandemic seemed to be a distant memory, at least for now.

Uthrada Pachil

The famed “Uthrada Pachil”, the Onam-eve last-minute shopping spree, caused congested roads, crowded malls, and overflowing markets across the State.

In Kochi, intermittent rain hit street vendors hard. Onam shoppers thronged malls, markets, and textile and jewellery showrooms. The administration has distributed 68 lakh free Onam kits through ration shops.

The famed boat races, fairs, exhibitions and tourism week celebrations are back. Domestic tourism is reportedly on the uptick.

However, the season was not without its woes. A financial crisis had delayed the salary and pension of Kerala State Road Transport Corporation employees.

Coastal folk are on the warpath against the Vizhinjam port construction. Stray dog attacks and rabies deaths remained a worry. COVID-19 still lurked in the background, prompting the government to request citizens to socialise with responsibility.

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