Malayalis have endorsed liquor as their best companion in their happy and sad moments and no celebration can be complete without a peg for any native of Kerala. It is paradoxical to note that Kerala, which takes credit for being one of the most literate States in India also tops the list of the highest per capita liquor consumption in the country. The state-owned Kerala State Beverages Corporation Ltd, the sole distributor of IMFL ( Indian Made Foreign Liquor) records an all time high in its sales during Onam, Christmas and New Year.
Bars in Kerala remain open 7 days a week ( except the 1st of every month and a few red letter days like Gandhi Jayanthi) from 9 am to 9 pm. The moment shutters open, the winding queues start taking shape outside liquor stores. Bars fill the Government coffers as it earns millions of rupees as revenue, which will go up many times during festival seasons like Onam and New Year.
Now that Onam is only a few days away, all the State run BEVCO outlets are fully stocked with all the popular brands of drinks to cater to the revelers who wish to have a kick. Last year, the beverages sale set a record of sorts in Kerala as the alcohol sales touched a record as Kerala consumed liquor worth a staggering Rs 143 crore, which does not include the sale of liquor through private bars.
This year too the Bevco is hopeful of keeping up with its double digit annual rise. Apart from the authorised Bevco outlets and bars attached to hotels, gallons of spurious liquor too will flow to Kerala across the borders to quench the undying thirst for liquor of Malayaless. It seems that when it comes to buying their favorite liquor brands, recession and rupee value depreciation never comes to the mind of Malayalees!
The historic town of Thripunithura that still bears the imprints of the royal grandeur, erupted in a riot of colors on Tuesday during the Atham processions. Thousands thronged the streets to bring alive the nostalgic memories of the rich past. Various folk art forms , processions and street shows marked the beginning of the week-long ‘Athaghosham 2012’.
The ceremonial flag hoisting and the lighting of the lamp in Atham Nagar was followed by a colorful parade along the streets. The colorful pageant was accompanied by caparisoned elephants, traditional folk and classical dance forms such as Theyyam, Kummatti kali, Kolkali, Mayilattom, Pulikali, Kathakali and Atakavadi among many others. The Panjavadyam added a frenzied fervour to the procession, while the modern dance forms added a contemporary touch to the milieu. Floats depicted many social issues raging the state including alcohol abuse, Shawarma and food poisoning and the Mullaperiyar issue among others. As always the mythical stories and legends remained the crowd pullers this year too.
Apart from the religious fervour and festivities, the Atham festivities highlight the religious harmony among the people of Kerala. Onam , which is the biggest festival in Kerala has always been celebrated by everyone irrespective of caste, creed or colour. Though we tend to forget this message of love and brotherhood in the flurry of activities like shopping and food festivals, Onam has always remained as the biggest bonding element in the lives of every Malayalee all over the world.
Keralites all over the world are looking forward to celebrate the home coming of King Mahabali and the Onam festival that falls on Friday. One of the most important days in the festive calender of Kerala, Onam festivities span over 10 days starting from Atham. Keralites have left nothing to chance; elaborate floral carpets , sumptuous feasts and the folks dressed in their best, everything is in place to make Mahabali happy and to show off the prosperity and happiness of his subjects! However beyond these cosmetic grandeur there is rot of corruption, nepotism and mismanagement that would force the king to scurry back to his subterranean abode!
To cater to the needs of the Keralites who are getting ready to celebrate Onam, wagon loads of flowers from Tamilnadu have already reached the city. The vendors have camped in vantage spots all over the city to grab the attention of the Onam shoppers. Though the flowers are being sold at exorbitant rates at a rate of over 150-300 Rs per kilo for many flowers like white marigold and yellow and orange jamanthi, this has not dampened the shopping spirits of the people. Gone are the days when Malayalees used to deck up the floral carpets with traditional flowers like Thumba, mathapoo and chembarthi. The new generation kids might not even know what all these are!
The unseasonal rains and the wet weather too has played spoil sport this year and the road side vendors are the most affected by this. There are onam fairs, payasamela and handicrafts exhibitions in various venues, which are jam packed with shoppers. The onam bonus and early salary has added the much needed impetus in driving up the shopping frenzy of the salaried class .
We have lost the classic charm of home made meals and the warmth of family get togethers somewhere down the time line. In the onslaught of the modern life styles where nobody has time for anything , the ready to eat onam kits and ready made payasams come as handy aids to enjoy an Onam feast before dashing off to any movie theatre or to some exotic locale for a family holiday. It is indeed sad that we have long lost the essence and virtues associated with this festival. These days, the lure for money and power has pushed back the virtues into oblivion that were held so dear by our legendary king . However, let us all get together to welcome the king who had dreamed of a virtuous and truthful society as a tribute to him and his land of Kerala!
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.
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.
Onam has arrived, once again, bringing happiness to all and adding colour to life.
It was on Friday night that I travelled back home for the weekend. As I was arriving at my native place, around midnight, I could see young chaps getting ready with the ‘Aththapookkalam’, the floral carpet that’s characteristic of Onam. This sight I could see at almost every 500 metre or so in the 15 km stretch from the National Highway to my home, at Varkala, in Thiruvananthapuram district.
‘Pookkalam’, which is also called ‘Aththam’, is now done in an elaborate manner, with funds being collected by groups of young guys going from door-to-door and with flowers bought from the market, mostly brought in from Tamil Nadu. There was a time when every house sported an ‘Aththam’ or ‘Pookkalam’ from the Aththam day itself, which marks the beginning of the Onam festivities. Even now,there are people who do this, with flowers plucked from their courtyards. I too used to do it at my house, till a couple of years back, with flowers plucked from the surroundings for the first few days and then, on the last 2 or 3 days, by mixing with them bought flowers. This because ‘Aththam’ is made on the first day with 1 variety of flower, with 2 varieties of flowers on the second day, 3 on the third thus it becoming ten different varieties on the tenth day, the ‘Thiruvonam’ day, the main day of festivities.
I remember once, during my childhood, when my uncles, who were college students then, made an ‘Aththa-thitta‘ (the base or structure on which the floral carpet is laid out- made usually by smearing the ground with cow dung or with mud). They had made it as a structure with ten steps, one step for each flower. On day one, they placed flowers on the first step and it was going from down upwards on the following days. But alas, we were shocked when in a couple of days it was raining too heavily. But my uncles were not the ones to be beaten so easily. They got an umbrella, one that was as colourful as the Pookkalam itself, and put it over it, shielding it from the rains. And there we were, watching from inside the house the colourful Pookkalam, which stood with all pride in a pool of water that the courtyard had become, due to the rain.
So, that was it, the Pookkalam. Another important thing that’s still there and which was rather an integral part of the Onam celebrations was the ‘Oonjal’ or the native swing, usually made by tying down ropes from the high branches of trees. Kids swing on these, singing all kinds of songs. There are still houses that sport an ‘Oonjal‘ during Onam time.
As the Onam mood sets in, people get busy buying things for their home, especially from the grocers. Relatives are going to stream in, all kinds of dishes are to be made, the Onasadhya is to be had, payasam has to be served. They run here and there, buying things,going to the flour mill to get rice ground into rice flour. The smell of achappam, murukku, unniyappam, upperi, chips and number of other delicacies emanate from all houses.
Then with Aththam, start the laying of the Pookkalam and then begin the final preparations for the Onam celebrations. Earning members in all families take time to go buy new clothes to be gifted to others in the family, as the ‘Onakodi‘. Then, from the 8th day after Aththam, the ‘Pooradam’ day, start festivities in the grandest of manners. The Onasadhya, the traditional Kerala feast is prepared and people start going around, visiting friends, visiting relatives and forgetting their worries and problems.
On the main days of the Onam celebrations, on ‘Pooradam’ , ‘Uthradam’, Thiruvonam’ and ‘Avittam’, (the 8th, 9th, 10th and 11th days respectively, starting from Aththam) it’s mostly the coming together of all members of a family, exchanging of the ‘Onakodi‘,partaking of the ‘Onasadhya’ and then going on to indulge in all kinds of ‘Onakalikal’ (the numerous games played during Onam). While the grown-ups prefer to sit around the table and play cards and do some light talk after the sumptuous lunch and the delicious payasam, the youngsters go about playing Thalappanthukali,
Ambeyyal etc. There is also, in connection with Onam, the women performing the Kaikottikali and the Thumbithullal. Kids gather and go from door-to-door doing the pulikali, donning the garb of tigers and leopards. All this and much more add to the spirit of Onam. In our parts, in the Southern districts of Kerala, Onam extends to Chathayam, the 12th day from Aththam, which is celebrated as the birth anniversary of Sree Narayana Guru, the great social reformer. Added to this is the Irupaththiyettaam Onam (or 28th Onam), celebrated on the 28th day after Thiruvonam and which coincides with the ‘Thiruvonam‘ day of the next month as per the Malayalam almanac.
It’s all this and much more that adds to the colour, the joy of Onam, which is celebrated by Malayalees everywhere.
What if the product you wish to get has an enticing offer? The month of August brings in the greatest festival of Kerala- Onam, with it comes many offers. Its during the time of Onam, kerala witnesses the shopping fever and so do everybody wants to go for a shopping spree.
It is seen that during this season, people swarm the markets and get goods for discount which may otherwise cost a bargain. Get to know some of the offers and go enjoying- the earlier the better!
- BSNL Kerala Mobile services announces launch of customized Special Pre-paid package, ‘STUDENT SUVIDHA’ for students during the Onam season.
- Kerala Khadi development board is organizing an exhibition cum sale of cottage and textile industry products with special offers, discounts and lucky draws at the Khadi development office in Calicut.
- Special trains from Indian Railway, specially emphasized on those malayalis who are working in various parts of India to reach Kerala during the Onam season.
- Airtel, the service provider will start its lucky draws welcoming the Onam market for those customers who are utilizing the Onam recharges. Gold coins will be awaiting the winner.
- Sony India has announced a wide range of consumer promotion offer for its products, such as combo offers, free installation and DVDS.