Onam is celebrated in the beginning of the month of Chingam, the first month of Malayalam Calendar (Kollavarsham). There are actually four days of Onam. The most important day of Onam (known as Thiru Onam) is the second day. Festivities actually commence around 10 days before this day (on Atham), with the preparation of floral arrangements (pookalam) on the ground in front of homes. This year Thiru Onam is on September 7. (Atham was on August 29).
ONAM is like a Dream!
Kerala is known for its enchanting beauty. The swaying palms, the sky kissing hills, the sun-bleached plains, the lush paddy fields, the placid lakes, the shimmering lagoons, all make it a veritable paradise on earth. I often hear the phrase ‘God’s on country’ as Kerala is often characterized. We are all too familiar with the legend behind the festival. For the sake of the young people, let me briefly state two versions of the story. Maveli, the king Mahabali, the legendary king who was unjustly pushed down into the Nether world by Vamana, the fifth ‘avatar’ of Vishnu.
Thiruvathira is a popular folk dance performed by women at Onam
It is said that, there was perfect equality, peace and happiness in his kingdom. No one dared to lie or cheat. However, gods grew envy at his acts of benevolence and growing popularity. After the banishment, Mahabali was given the special privilege to visit his subjects once a year. Historians give a different twist to the legend. According to them, Mahabli, who was a Buddhist, defeated by Hindu kings from Narmada (currently Maharashtra) in the North.
Subsequently, they conquered the land and sent him into exile in Ezahm which is currently known as Sri Lanka. It was believed that permission was granted to Mahabali to come and visit his subjects during the period when they traditionally celebrated Sravanolsavam. Therefore, for Keralites, it may be a symbolic description of the Aryan invasion and the imposition of its culture on the native Dravidian populace of Kerala.
Snake boat races are popular attractions during Onam celebrations. The most famous snake boat race that’s held during Onam celebrations is the Aranmula carnival, along the Pampa River
Regardless, Onam is a grand harvest festival which is celebrated with flowers, sumptuous feasts, and swings under mango trees. Onam represents the spirit of Kerala transcending the people of Kerala the world over to an enchanting mood of thanksgiving, idyllic pleasure and music and dance. People irrespective of religion celebrate Onam with traditional gaiety and fervor. It is stated that where there is a Keralite there will be Onam.
Now the celebration is extended to the Diaspora, Mahabali needs to travel around the globe to visit all his subjects. Onam embodies the message of basic goodness of man who is selfless in his deeds towards fellow man. It is also about a dream; it is a dream about peace and tranquility in the world. It is dream about economic well-being and resource sharing; it is a dream about love and brotherhood, it is a dream about high ethics and morals; and it is a dream about human justice and preservation of nature.
Great men in history dreamed before they embarked on a course to achieve them. Mahatma Gandhi had a dream. He set out to gain freedom for the 300 million Indians from the colonial rule and slavery. He mobilized and motivated the masses through non-violent protests which eventually gained the long cherished independence. Fulfilling own dream was fraught with dangers. He paid the ultimate price with his own life to preserve what he dreamed about.
Jawaharlal Nehru had a dream which was set out in the preamble of the Indian constitution: to setup a secular republic with equal rights for everyone with freedom to think and speak and freedom to worship; to build a democratic society which fights fascism and communism; to promote equal opportunity and justice for the common man and independence in International relations. Today, that dream is being challenged by the forces of communalism which would like turn India on a path towards Hindutva.
It is quite a surprise to see that this divisive philosophy are tacitly endorsed by some in our own community who enjoy the secular freedom in this country yet, want to deny the same freedom to others who live in India The great Martin Luther King who emulated the non-violent method which Gandhi has pioneered had a dream of his own. He had a dream to deliver his people from the slavery and second-class status – We are all too familiar with his ‘I have a dream’ speech. – ‘I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed. We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal ‘With the voting rights acts in 1964, his dreams were come to fruition.
Yes, there are continuing challenges faced by the black community at the social level which may require further attention. America as a nation had a dream as well. When the pilgrims took the boat and landed on the Plymouth seeking religious freedom, their dream was to develop the most democratic, secular and prosperous society based on capitalism. They seemed to have accomplished that by making America a superpower, second to none, economically and militarily.
Yet there are great challenges ahead of this nation as it is falling victim to a valueless culture which could eat away the core of the principles on which this nation was founded. Yes, there are challenges; however, we all need to dream as individuals, as a society and as a nation. For many of us the dream of prosperity is only half of the puzzle. We might have accomplished them. We may be still missing that spiritual and moral dimension which made Kerala once a land of prosperity, justice and brotherhood.
A colorful float that’s part of the Onam Pulikkali festivities
All of us should have clear goals in life. This is a non-optional component of a spiritually healthy life. You can see from many of these examples I have elicited, there Is a close connection between dreams or in other words, goalorientation and motivation and fulfillment? The lack of those dreams is a big reason why so many of us are unmotivated in our tasks. It is said that performance is equal to motivation and ability. The component motivation requires expectancy and that is where the dream fits in. If it is motivating, it has to be making progress and accomplishing something.
This week as we celebrate Onam, let us once again become nostalgic. Let Onam transcends our thoughts and process. Above all, it remains a dream. Attainable or not it symbolizes human yearnings; which keep the dreams alive. It motivates us to go on. Bible says, without vision, people perish; keep dreaming and let the spirit of Onam burn within us forever. Happy Onam to everyone
(The author is a former Chief Technology Officer, United Nations)