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Onam

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Onam


As we all know, India is a very diverse country, with many different cultures and traditions. One tradition is the grand celebration of Onam, a Hindu festival when a Hindu god, King Mahabali, comes home. This is mostly celebrated in the southern state of Kerala, which is where I’m from. Onam is celebrated in the Hindu month of Chingum which is our calendar, lies somewhere between August and September. It is a truly marvelous time of the year to go to India.

For the festival, which lasts 10 days, schools are closed and everyone gets ready. During each of the 10 days, women and children buy many varieties of flowers and make flower carpets on their front porches. On the first day, which is 10 days before Onam, you use only one type of flower. On the second day, two types of flowers and so on, so that when you get to Thiruvonam, the tenth day, you have ten different varieties of flowers. There are many other traditions that go along with the flower carpets which I can not remember. But, I used to look forward to making the flower carpets, known as onapookkalam in the native language of Kerala Malayalam. Most people go out and buy all sorts of flowers because they are abundant during that time of the year. But, my family used to use freshly picked flowers from our gardens along with colorful and pattern-filled leaves. For nine days the Hindus create flower carpets and constantly visit their temples. Then came Thiruvonam.

On the day of Onam, everyone would gather together with their friends and relatives to enjoy a fabulous Onam Sadya. This included, in the olden days, 30 different items, including rice and dessert, all together for lunch. The women would make these dishes while the men and children would go out and play traditional Onam games, like tug of war and the Indian version of beating a piñata filled with chocolate. After the games, the men and children showered and the women finished preparing the food. The food would be eaten on a banana leaf. That is part of the fun. You would sit on the floor lined up in one single line and the ladies, wearing traditional Keralite (Kasavu) sarees, would serve each individual. After the food would be dessert, payasam, an Indian delicacy. Then everyone would gather around the family television and watch the movie of the day, because staring on Thiruvonam and for the next 4 days, there will be movies and other specials on television. Many relatives might sleep over because the kids are on vacation. So, most children receive an extra late visit from the sand man.

That week of Onam is the best. Many newly released movies will be on television. Kids get a chance to leave the pressure of school and just hang out and play with friends. The weather is usually awesome which promotes these activities. Around the time of Onam, usually the same day or the next day of Thiruvonam, Snake Boat races take place. That truly puts an Onam spirit in everyone’s mind. There are so many people in one boat all paddling to the same beat and using all their energy to win. It is such an honor to say that my boat won this year’s Vallamkalli. Besides boat races, there are many other Hindu traditions that take place during this time of celebration. Most of them, I do not know how to explain but there are people who are dressed in costumes that resemble some of their gods. There are women dancing the Thiruvathira dance, wearing the Kasavu sarees and many other traditions like. All put together, Onam is one of the best times to be in Kerala, my home state.

So, what’s so special about Onam? It is a time that brings joy and celebration to the hearts of each and every individual. The gastronomically attractive smells are to die for. I miss those days, sometimes. This year, Thiruvonam was on the 12th of September, and it was a school day. I felt so bad because if I was back in India, things would have been totally different. The feeling that everything is not the way it is supposed to be really puts a damper on things. I had an Onam Sadya that afternoon but it was not announced earlier. So, it was such a rush to get there on time but the people and the surroundings made things a little better. It was not as good as it would have been in India, but it was better than what we usually do, which is nothing. Onam brings everyone together and that is what it does no matter where you are. So for the next Onam, I can’t wait to go back to India and be with family and friends. But, until then, I have my previous memories and experiences to keep me company and help me keep in touch with the real me.





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