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.