Tourism, tourism, tourism everywhere! Kerala is known for its tourism in different sectors. The alluring charm and the unique serenity have made Kerala one of the best tourism destinations. One can find people from different countries and locations visiting this charming state in order to explore the various tourism areas, which it is highly known for.
Whether it is the high standard of food or the simple cooked puttu (steamed rice powder preparation), vegetarian dishes and fish curry, here comes the concept of Kerala being known for its culinary tourism. Though ‘idiyappam’, stew, puttu were influenced by the Portuguese cuisines, these food items are the customary dishes in every home in Kerala.
Now lately it is seen that film tourism has also been seen as a tourism ingredient that boosts Kerala tourism. With various films from Hollywood and Bollywood like Mistress of Spices, Dil Se, Bombay and most recently Ravan (Ravanan), being shot in Kerala, one can find that Kerala provides appropriate places for all these right shots.
Eco tourism- One of the fastest growing segments in the world, Kerala has joined in the race to show that it is nestled in the bounties of nature thereby attracting foreigners and travellers. Focusing on sustainable and eco tourism development with a rich biodiversity and unmatched natural stations makes Kerala a hot spot for eco tourism. This is a concept introduced in order to make people observe and understand more about the flora and fauna of Kerala.
From being just a lip smacking item in Kerala cuisine, Karimeen or Pearl spot has become the official State fish. 2010-11 is being observed as ‘The Year of Karimeen.’ to boost the production of Karimeen (Etroplus suratensis). A bottom dweller that inhabits the fresh and brackish water habitats throughout Kerala, pearl spot is a delicacy that tops the menu at the restaurants and is extremely popular among foreign tourists and local population alike.
The Kuttanad region in Alappuzha district is considered the home of this fish species. It is a popular item in the menu served during camping and house boats and very often the boat crew procure the fish straight from men and women who collect it using gillnets from the waters.
It is cooked in various styles. Fried, cooked in spicy and tangy coconut gravy or slowly grilled in charcoal with spices, pearl spot is tasty and hence pricey as well, which is well beyond the reach of ordinary people. The signature dish of Kerala could well be the delicacy, ‘Karimeen Pollichathu”, fish sauteed with masala and cooked over low fire in coconut milk, wrapped in plantain leaves. Kerala produces 2,000 tonnes of Karimeen at present and efforts are on to step up its production to 5,000 tonnes in a year. Though the plight of the state animal, elephant and the state bird, hornbill is far from satisfactory, we can earnestly hope that Karimeen, the state fish of Kerala, thrives and flourishes in Kerala waters, bringing laurels and precious foreign exchange in the process.
Here goes… a few candid confessions from a not-so-traditional Keralite…
Even though I enjoy sadhyas I am yet to learn how to cook the entire spread and serve people for lunch. I get by with Onam kits or better still with invitations from great cooks like my aunts or mother.
I buy flowers, the ones that come from Tamil Nadu, for Onam, and as they are quite expensive I keep them packed neatly in a Tupperware container for the next day.
The flower-carpet centre flower I sometimes steal from gardens on the way-side and bolt without looking back… and that I think is traditional – pookallanmaar and pookallikal (flower thieves) are traditional.
Have never had Onathappan kept in the middle of the flower carpet, and not sure about the significance. Gulp!
I relate to the Maveli story more than the harvest significance of Onam, even though Maveli is a mythological figure of whom Amar Chitra Katha has a great comic about.
Growing up, I remember my mother and sisters always made elaborate pookkalams and we did have shankupushapam, chembarathi, nanyaarvattam (indigenous flowers) and ferns to our pookkalam. The flower carpets looked very much from Kerala and not the market fare from Tamil Nadu. Ah nostalgia!
However, I do know certain things only a traditional Keralite knows:
I do know that inji thaiyiru (raw ginger curry in curd) is equivalent to a 1000 curries, so it’s always on the menu for me.
Also kurukkukaalan (coconut curry with sour buttermilk) made during Onam gets tastier as the days go by.
Thumbapoovu (flower) used to be the traditional way one does pookkalam on Onam day (at least in my part of the state).
Onakodi or the new dress needs to be of that Kodi (off-white) colour traditionally, so yes a new mundu or set-mundu in cream colour is the traditional way to do it.
So, Onam has evolved from a harvest-mythological festival to being Kerala’s identity and cultural festival today. The Kerala tourism significance the festival has and the shopping fairs that play out have all but swallowed the traditional Onam. And perhaps it is the way to be… as tourism continues to bring in huge amount of money into the state and prompts a lot of us to ponder and wonder the significance, traditions and the not-so-traditional truths about our state festival.
Music has the magic to pierce the hearts and minds of all human beings. Whatever is the celebration we have music to enrich the gala mood. This year too the music lovers had their thirst quenched with the Onam songs in their ears.
Before the season was on the music directors, play back singers and the music studios started preparing a variety of music dishes to offer to the world and when the season was on, the music industry was all set to enlighten the hearts of all malayalees not only in Kerala but also those staying outside the state or even the country.
When the beautiful girls of Kerala wear their traditional costumes, ‘setum mundum’ and sing different songs like ‘maaveli naadu vaaneedum kaalam maanusharellaarum onnu pole….’ (When our great King Mahabali ruled this country all the men were treated as equals), all the listeners especially the old would have many Onams flash through their minds. The music has the nostalgic tint in it to keep us mesmerised for long, throughout the festive season or even after that.
The rhythm of the Onam songs give us a grand treat to cherish along with all the other delicacies offered by Onam.
Onam celebrations at Karma Kerala held on 19th August 2010 was by far the best. A smart mix of trend and tradition, it offered ample scope for fun, frolic and fiesta. It seems that the traditional Malayalee attire of set mundu has overtaken sari in popularity as many of the ladies chose to wear this simple two piece attire. The fusion song rendered by an enterprising team of our boss Tejal along with Amjath, Unni and Sharaz stood out for its fresh theme. The zip and zap of Vanchipattu was blended well with the English rendition of the lore of Mahabali, which was brought out well by Sharaz.
The Kaikottikali was the specialty of this year’s Onam celebrations as it was the first time that it was included. A team of girls under the able leadership of Nita mam enthralled us all by their subtle steps to the tune of a popular Malayalam song. After a sumptuous Onam feast, it was the turn of the sports events.
From the funny sports events like popping the baloons and thread and needle to the innovative bomb blast – an improvised version of musical chairs, it was a hotly fought contest where everyone vied for the top spot and Amjath, Tejal sir , Aji, Deepa and Shola were some of the winners who emerged after a couple of tough preliminary elimination rounds. Thanks for the management for the support and encouragement that unveiled the hidden talents amongst many of us.
Our hunky cabbie, Ratheesh spiced up the whole affair by his antics and rib tickling jokes and one liners. Onam is indeed a time to rejoice and we at Karma Kerala had our fair share ( and even more of it.
As our Karmakerala office celebrates Onam with all PCs shut down or used as props for a large amount of flowers that are being readied for a giant Pookkalam at the entrance. The ceremonies start with the lighting of the lamp and good wishes all around.
All the ladies are busy checking their set-mundu or Kerala sari and helping each other pin jasmine flowers in their hair. The smell of jasmine fills the office, the ching-ching of glass bangles and giggles, dangling ear-rings that twinkle, traditional malas (necklaces) that dazzle as the cameras flash and even decorative bindis. And for a change no ‘tap-tap’ of the keyboards.
Let’s not forget the men-folk, most have dared to wear the mundu fastened safely with a belt to keep it in place. To go without a belt is a challenge few Malayalee men can meet these days (but not a challenge for our Scottish boss whose Mundu never falls even though he eschews a belt). Even the famous Malayalee mustache is fast disappearing with fancy beards taking over.
Festivity and fun in the air with a couple of performances and games getting ready. After all the preening and fun of the flower carpet and performances the sadhya will be relished as people are snapped eating from the banana leaf with hands. I’m sure there are some surprises ready to be sprung to add to the fun. Let me end with a resounding “‘Happy Onam” to all
Travelling in some of Kochi‘s private buses is a daunting experience for me and for other commuters who are concerned about time. In the morning, reaching office on time is a concern for all those who work in a well administered office. In the evening, most people hurry back home, especially women, before it gets dark. If you are staying in a hostel, you’ll have to meet the deadline of time before the gate closes. And even private buses in Cochin are also concerned about punching in time at the punching stations.
But it happens mostly in the evening when you want to hurry back home. If you have got into a bus which moves like it is taking you for a sightseeing in the city. Here you end up getting mad. Some buses move at such a snail’s pace, that we can even take a nap. I have counted seconds and minutes from the time I got in to reach my stop. The time I took to reach from Janatha(Vyttila) via south to Kacheripady was an hour!! And this happened despite the traffic blocks at Panampilly Nagar and South over bridge. I wanted to ask the driver if he was learning the driving or taking us for a sightseeing and then I curse myself for getting into this bus.
Some buses go slow until they reach the punching station at Menaka, but once they punched out they rush for life. Most people, who like me feel that time is very valuable, are happy to travel in fast riding private buses. If once I got stuck in such bus, I’ll be careful not to step into that bus again.
Although, the traffic rules says “Speed Thrills but Kills”, these snail-buses are sometimes beyond tolerance.
Kerala is today celebrating ‘Chingam 1′, the beginning of the New Year as per its traditions. A great significance to the farmers, it is actually referred to as Aandu Pirappu and represents activeness, prosperity and harvest after the rains.
Chingam, a season for sports, festivities and ritual celebrations, is believed to have originated on this particular day when Lord Vishnu took the avatar of Vaamana and came to the state of King Mahabali and sent him to the nether world.
Onam the harvest festival of Kerala is celebrated in the month of Chingam which corresponds to the month of August or September. One can find people wearing the traditional attires to schools and offices and also the start of the floral design competition to commemorate the Chingam celebrations leading to the state festival of Kerala – Onam.
Hindus welcome the month of Chingam by going to the temples followed by feasting and celebrations. The first month in the traditional Malayalam calendar- Chinga Masam or Chingam Month is busy with fairs, marriages, feasts and especially shopping for the people.
In Cochin, The Atthachamayam Festival is conducted every year on Atham asterism of the Malayalam month Chingam in remembrance of the renowned victory of the Raja of Kochi. It adds a lot of colour to this city and people are drawn to the culture of this beautiful place during this period.
The Greater Cochin Development Authority (GCDA) is organising a five-day Onam celebration, ‘Ponnona Varavelppu’, at the GCDA Marine Drive Walkway from August 17 to 21. Some of the attractions on offer include Panchavaadyam by Kuzhur Narayana Marar, a special orchestra in tribute to the artists of the yesteryears including Mohammed Rafi and Mukesh, music director Baburaj and poet Vayalar Rama Varma. A programme on the unique martial art form of Kerala, kalaripayattu is slated for August 20. The celebrations will conclude on August 21 with a sumptuous Onasadya for the visitors.
In the other districts of Kerala too Onam festivities will be held in its true splendor and spirit. In the capital city of Kerala of Thiruvananthapuram, Onam is celebrated in a grand scale with a tourism week celebration comprising of folk arts , displays and floral carpet competitions. Thrissur, the cultural capital of Kerala will reverberate with the buzz of pulikali when scores of dancers in bright yellow tiger costumes paint the city streets in a riot of colors.
This year Kochi is also indulging in Onam in a grand scale and this 5 day festivities will add further charm to the festive mood in the air. The Kite flying festival in Fort Kochi and pageantry and floats will be the other attractions associated with the biggest festival of Kerala this season. Make the most of the festive spirit around and discover the cultural richness and the heritage of Kerala through Onam.