Here in Kerala Onam , a 10-day harvest festival and much more, is in full swing. It’s their most important holiday of the year, and is celebrated only in the state of Kerala. There are 4 main days of Onam, beginning on Sunday, when I fly to Delhi for 4 days. RATS! I’m missing the culmination of the entire festival, a parade with floats and PULIKALI, which means 'tiger dance', where a group of dancers dressed as tigers dance to drums and floats. [SAD FACE]. I’m also missing the famous boat races, called Vallam Kali. However, there have already been many things to see, so I’ll report on that.
This is a multi-faceted holiday: there are those that celebrate it simply as a harvest festival, those who call it a Kerala-specific celebration of the desire for equality, fraternity, and Dharma (not the TV show), those who use it as a marketing ploy, much like Christmas in the States, and others who just like the lights and decorations, the flowers, the food, and the general hoopla. I fall firmly into the last group.
There are several traditional parts. One is the Pookalam, a carpet of multi-coloured flowers arranged in a decorative pattern at a courtyard or entrance. It looks a bit like a flower mandala. Each day new patterns emerge, and people use more and more colors, until Day 10’s final beautiful product. It’s made to welcome King Mahabali, who, as legend has it, was condemned and exiled to live in the Netherworld, but escapes once a year for 10 days to return to Earth and see how his people are doing.
Second is the PRATYA, a traditional lunch served on a banana leaf that features 4 curries, some chips, pickles, and other yummy Keralan delights. I went to the Taj today for lunch to give it an inspection first-hand, and it did not disappoint. See the photos on FLICKR here
Another aspect of this festival is new clothing. I was at a textile and clothing store on Monday (day 1 of Onam) and was taken aback by the very tall stacks of clothing people had at the checkout, the rather barren shelves, and the men in the usually female-only store. I went today to a big department store to see what the foot traffic was like, and we could barely get to the store, it was so busy, there were several traffic cops directing traffic, and there were at least 1,000 people inside. No pictures are allowed inside, and there are reminders posted everywhere, so I can’t give you a visual, but it makes pre-Christmas malls seem like a resort of pastoral silence in abundant space.
I read an interesting article at the dentist’s office yesterday (don’t ask, I’ll probably have to blog about it) about how modern Keralan families are now flocking to …..wait for it…SHOPPING MALLS to celebrate Onam. Well, taking a page right out of the Christmas season in America, are they? There is a different twist, though, in that they don’t go to the Malls merely to shop. There are DJs, dancers, and public happenings for the families to enjoy. One person is quoted saying their family would “….give television a skip this year and watch performances live at the malls.” In their defense there are performances of traditional art forms that the younger generation are not privy to, so perhaps this trend is a good thing? Also, there is the last aspect of Onam, which is Onasammanam, an Onam gift, so where better to get the gifts than a mall? You can’t buck a world-wide trend, I guess.
The palace next door (not kidding) is open for Onam so I went over there after lunch. Sadly, it has not been taken care of, and it just an open space with moldly smells and sad spaces. The edifice is quite beautiful, though. As I type there are traditional music groups roaming around with drums, a funny English horn sounding instrument, and cymbals, lots of cymbals. There has been fireworks every night this week, reminiscent of Diwali in Jaipur, so while I’m bummed about missing the boat races and parade and tiger dances, I won’t miss the kegs of gunpowder they set off that sound like the battle has started. Also, since some of you asked, there are some photos in the same FLICKR set of our apartment in Trivandrum. I didn't photo the spare bedroom, but it's there, so come on over and visit. Also, 3 bathrooms and a laundry space. It's nice, and it's good to have a kitchen again after a year with none, although it's still an adjustment as I gather Indian kitchens don't usually have running hot water. I do have a gas burner with which to boil some quickly, however, so no big deal.