Kerala’s harvest festival Onam, often called the season of plenty, is on Monday but the Covid-19 pandemic has taken the sheen out of the festivities across the state. For many the festival has been reduced to an indoor game– high-voltage celebrations have taken a backseat as concerns of safety are top priority for people.
True, tongue-tickling banana chips, beautiful floral carpets, high swings, boat race and golden embroidered kasavu dresses are difficult to spot this time. But people have taken it in their stride saying it is just a passing phase– this spirit keeps them ticking. From papad makers to flower wallahs to electronic goods merchants all have a story of loss and agony to share but they are ready to welcome their erstwhile ruler King Mahabali.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has urged people to stay home and avoid large family gatherings due to the prevailing situation. “Festivals will be there in coming years also. But we can’t open our gates to the waiting enemy now, so we have to be extra vigilant,” the CM said while wishing people on the occasion. Governor Arif Mohammad Khan also greeted Malayalees across the globe.
“Usually we make 28 dishes for the sumptuous Onam feast. Since no extended family members are around this time we reduced them to half. What to do we have to go by the new normal,” a family head in the Fort area in the state capital Lakshmikutty Amma summed up the mood. A feast on a plantain leaf is mandatory on Onam day.
In many households elders are behind curtains these days due to reverse quarantine. “We will really miss the fun and the floral carpet competition this time,” said Sreebala Nair, a techie.
People like her agree there is no room for any compliant and it is better to reduce festivities to a low-key affair to suit the occasion. And for many non-resident Keralites they will miss the festival badly as they are unable to travel– even if they rush they will have to spend 14 days in quarantine back home.
There is a legend behind Onam. Once demon king Mahabali (said to be Prahlad’s grandson) ruled Kerala. People were really happy with his reign as he was very humble and just. But ‘Devas’ were upset with his popularity and approached Lord Vishnu who later took the incarnation of ‘Vamana, one of the 10 avatars, to banish the king. Disguised as a Brahmin mendicant Lord Vishnu went to the king and asked for a piece of land measuring three paces.
The king readily agreed but little Vamana grew big suddenly and covered the kingdom in his first pace and in second the rest of the universe. No space left for the third he offered his head. But before going to the nether world he asked Lord Vishnu for a boon_ he would have to be allowed to visit his erstwhile people and country once every year and the God granted him his parting wish. People believe Mahabali visits them on ‘Thiruvonam’ day, the most auspicious during the 10-day festival– it falls on Aug 31.