Kerala celebrate Onam

Women decorating Rangoli with flowers, on the eve of Onam Festival, in Bangalore
Women decorating Rangoli with flowers, on the eve of Onam Festival

Despite light rain in some parts of Kerala, Onam was celebrated across the state Sunday with a lavish, 26-dish traditional vegetarian lunch, flowers and a degree of nostalgia.

On the occasion of Thiru Onam Sunday, the most important day in the 10-day long Onam calendar, people were in a festive mood, while a few recalled age-old customs associated with the event.

“We got our lunch from a caterer and over the years these caterers have also turned very professional. Each and every item is neatly packed in containers,” said Sumathy Nair, a home-maker in the capital city.

Onam, a harvest fectival, is celebrated by Malayalees of all religions, castes and creeds, cutting across the financial standing of the families.

Kunjumon, a rubber tapper from Kottayam, said he has been without a job for the past four months, but managed to save for Onam.

“We are a family of rubber tappers. We have had no work for the past nearly four months. I did odd jobs and also saved for celebrating Onam. It was tough but we have managed,” said Kunjumon.

In central districts of Kerala, every festival is dependent on the price of natural rubber and since 2011, the price of rubber has been going down from Rs.210 per kg in 2010 to just Rs.126 per kg today.

“I was surprised to see many of the markets and shops in our place with less than half the crowd that’s normally seen during the Onam festival days,” said Mani Kurian, a rubber farmer in Pathanamthitta.

“Many shops in the towns and villages of rubber-dependent districts are having huge stock of bananas and vegetables, waiting for customers,” he said.

A retired school teacher recalled how they used to dance around a swing during Onam in the past.

“My father used to get thick ropes and almost two weeks before the Thiru Onam, he used to put up a swing on a mango tree in our courtyard,” said K. Pankajashi, a retired teacher in Thiruvalla.

“During the three key Onam days, we all used to dress up in the traditional Onam attire and dance around the swing,” her added.

A floral carpet in front of most homes was yet another Onam event. But things are different today as flowers have become expensive. And so, plastic flowers from China have taken their place in many Kerala households.

“I purchased fresh flowers after my children were making a big fuss,” said Ajith Kumar, a contractor.

He said he paid Rs.500 for a kg of fresh flowers.

“I could have got plastic ones at half the price, but my family wanted fresh ones,” he said.