Rapturous symbolic ritual

For Keralites the world over, Onam is an evocative occasion, an abiding nostalgia and it brings with it a sense of collective belonging. It is also primarily a time for rejoicing, writes SREEVARAHOM BALAKRISHNAN.

WHAT IS so unique about Onam that makes it a festival of festivals? Is it the `mass and majesty' of the Onam myth that envisions an ideal welfare state, a virtual paradise on earth, the `Mavelinadu?' Or is it the `mystic' incongruity of the very legend that has the midget Vamana, the fifth incarnation of Vishnu, dethroning the magnanimous Asura king, Mahabali, and sending him to the nether-world for being a paragon of virtue and most beloved of his people?

Myth or `mytheme' as post-modern structuralists are prone to call it, Onam involves a pluralistic pride of an entire race that acts as a spur in the present to surge ahead to the future. Perhaps, it is this delicate balance between time and space that adds pep and punch to the concept of Onam. It is more pronounced when viewed and reviewed against the prevailing scenario in which the majority of Malayalies are a much fatigued lot due to existential and ethical exigencies despite their brave pretensions.

As sociologists put it, Onam is an abiding nostalgia for Keralites the world over, an integral part of their very being. Wherever they are bound to, they carry along with them cherished memories of Onam that embody an evocative souvenir to fall back upon, and an intense longing to look forward to. May be, it is his emotional oneness, an infectious spirit of collective belonging, that best exemplifies the uniqueness of Onam cutting across barriers of caste, rank or creed.

Coming down from yore, Onam lore has always provided ample `text and context' for the young and old alike to celebrate, be it by singing, dancing, feasting or swinging. To some it is an occasion for serene thanksgiving, to some for rollicking around, to some for indulging in `belly-cheer' and to some others for sharing sweet pleasantries with dear and near ones. To all, it is an occasion for rejoicing which constitutes the very core of Onam.

A German journalist who visited Kerala along with a group during Onam last year was excited beyond words as she witnessed the festive fervour that had gripped the whole land and its people. ``Fantastic!'' she went on exclaiming, but hastened to add in an afterthought: ``No, Kerala is not God's own country; it is Nature's , first and foremost.'' Needless to say, Onam involves an absolute communion between man and Nature that manifests itself in myriad ways.

The old often go ecstatic over the bygone times when Onam was celebrated on custom-ordained lines.

In the past the festivities began at the fag-end of `Karkitakom,' the last month of Malayalam year, with a symbolic ritual, `to ring out the rot and ring in the divine', and lasted for weeks.

Onam, of late, has fallen into the commercial way with several consumerist sponsorships going into the celebrations which, however, have only enlarged its scope, range, structure and overall appeal.

Onam arouses in its wake an irrepressible audio-video montage of images and impressions - the rapturous reunion of relatives, the fond memory of a fascinating gift, the untold thrill atop a soaring swing, the breathtaking spectacle of a racing snake boat, the pulsating crescendo of a `panchavadyam' orchestra, the lingering relish of a long-cherished feast, and at last, the sweet sorrow of bidding farewell...

Onam is a many-splendoured metaphor to all Malayalies who readily respond to its beckoning call enjoying the hard-earned holidays in relaxation, recreation and rejuvenation with a spirit of camaraderie and spontaneous gaiety.

True, Onam is an extravaganza in these hard days, but they deserve it at least once a year so as to soothe their soul and sinew. Don't they?