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Onam Feast and Festivities: A Glimpse over the Changing Mode

Jisha Subin Jagdish
Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Onam Feast and Festivities: A Glimpse over the Changing Mode

Fond memories of Onam date back to my childhood days at Kannur (Kerala). During those days, we got a 10 days long Onam holidays right after quarterly exams. Holiday homework was never a villain to kill our holiday fun during those days and we spend holidays making floral carpets to mark Onam. We used to make small floral carpet during 9 days and a grand one on Thiruvonam day. For us kids, floral carpet was the most attractive part of Onam celebration. We friends gathered and collected flowers from nearby areas not to mention stole from nearby gardens and we all would sit and draw the design and then start decorating it with flowers. There was no place for religious or any such concern in that gathering. My Mom made a grand feast, a typical Kerala feast with rice and lot of curries. Whether we ate all those curries or not it was great to have all those colorful curries in a banana leaf. All our neighbors who didn’t celebrate Onam used to join us and it was of great fun. There was one more reason for them to join the lunch. After lunch we used to have a photo session. You must be wondering what is the big deal in photo session. Photo session was a very serious and elaborate process back in those times. We didn’t have a camera those days and my father used to borrow a camera from one of his friends, buy a roll of film and we would all take photos with our family and friends. We never knew how we would look in the photo till we got it printed. The excitement when dad finally brought the photos printed was unexplainable. Those were the real onam celebrations. Full of fun without barriers, less festiveness, less expensive but full of fun and musti and togetherness.

College days had a different outlook for Onam. We all used to wear Kerala Sari and celebrate in college just before the 3 days of Onam holidays. Traditional festival became more filmy kind of a thing I guess. Celebrations started getting limited to the competition on floral carpet making and Onam feast in college. Celebration at home changed. Feast was limited to close friends and size of floral carpet became small. We started buying some flowers and rest we used to have at home. People started spending less time on festivities. The unlimited package of fun which we used to have during childhood became limited. But was more colorful indeed with traditional dresses and all. Influence of media became more prevalent and we could see it in the celebrations.

Finally, now in Gulf. It has a total different meaning of Onam. Some parties over weekend with Onam feast or you have a full fledge Onam event if you are a part of any Malayali association. Floral carpet means two packets of flowers from Lulu. We make the floral carpet in the morning. It doesn’t take that long all together two packets of flower and is quite easy. Also in my collection are some plastic Jasmin flowers to keep things easy and beautiful. Then we wear traditional Kerala dress and take selfies in front of Pookkalam, change once again and rush to office and schools. Middle east life does not allow all of the family to be together for the Onasadhya, so Onam lunch gave way to Onam dinner. Onam is also just another day. The greatest blessing is the parcel feast available at most hotels and supermarkets that we easily pick up on the way back from work.

I would thank social media for one thing. There was a time where I never used to wear a traditional Kerala sari on an Onam day. We feel like skipping those things in the rush to office. But now I have to post photos in groups, my Onam selfie with floral carpet in traditional dress, and mine should be the best in my group. For that one reason at least our kids get a chance to see what is actually the tradition. Otherwise by this time they would have not known what we wear for Onam and what we do for Onam.

When I look back festivals were days of togetherness in my childhood. Slowly it got to a different level. Now all these festivals are there only in Whatsapp groups and other social medias. A group photo with neighbors gave way to selfie of myself or my family within the four walls of my house. Changes are inevitable hence we see the shift from real celebration to electronic celebration, natural flowers to plastic flowers, homemade Onam feast to parcel Onam feast, one grand Onam day to various Onam parties with various groups lasting till next festival, a personal wish to a voice call and finally to a Whatsapp message sent through a broadcast list, less personal values to more of show offs and finally togetherness to loneliness. Truly we are now lonely even in the crowds, be it a festival day or a normal day. Though we know the harsh fact, we still feel good whenever we receive a wish. So here is a wish from the bottom of my heart to all whether you celebrate Onam or not! A Very Happy and Prosperous Onam.

Jisha Subin Jagdish, Marketing Operations Analyst at Independent Petroleum Group, is a Post Graduate in Anthropology and a P.G Diploma holder in Business Administration. During her stint as a Research Assistant at Kuwait University, Jisha started contributing to various Anthropological and Sociological Journals, an exercise she continues to date. On a lighter perspective, she writes Short Stories and Poems. She is passionate artist who has anchored many stage shows, hosted TV shows and Interviews. Her footsteps into Short Films include Story, Screen Play, Lyrics and Direction.
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