Onam is a festival that is largely celebrated by the people of Kerala, India. It is an occasion that is heralded by a week of school holidays and 4 days of state holidays there, where families and entire neighborhoods come together to have fun, socialize and celebrate.The people of Kerala take part in these celebrations irrespective of religion or background.
In Malaysia however, Onam is a festival unknown to many and is usually quietly celebrated by the Malayalee community in the privacy of their own home amidst family. Me, being a devout Malayalee since birth, has gone through numerous Onam celebrations among family and few family friends. It was not till I experienced Onam in its home state that I realized I have truly not lived.
Onam is a festival that spans 10 days where each day is characterized by the activities it entails. The most note-worthy of activities include Pulikali, Pookkalam, Tug of War and many others.
During my time in India, I was fortunate enough to be a part of of these activities and witness the camaraderie shared by total strangers in the spirit of Onam. One early morning atop my grandmother’s apartment, loud drum sounds were heard indicative of a celebratory procession. It was not after a solid 10 minutes that the first sightings of the procession were had. People painted as tigers and hunters were dancing along to the deafening beat of drums. It was a truly a sight to behold, unfortunately, I could only catch a short glimpse before the procession soon disappeared from sight behind another building as it went on its way.
No Onam festival is complete of course without a semi-competitive battle of Pookkalam between households as entire families gather on their respective doorsteps to lay down flower petals to form the most beautiful floral patterns. As an observer of this cultural wonder, I found that it was the duty of children to run over to their neighbors and make fun of their neighbor’s Pookkalam, then return home, alive if possible. Fun times.
Preparation of flower petals for the Pookkalam
The Magnificent Pookkalam
On Onam day itself, entire communities would gather around a designated spot where various fun and games were to be had. Most noticeably, the highlight of these games were the Tug of War, where men, women and children participated (all at once) in a giant contest of strength, usually ending up in one group falling into a mangled heap of limbs.
Egg and spoon race
Eager to learn more about this exotic festival, I promptly hopped on the internet and to my dismay I found that the activities I took part in barely scratched the surface of the Onam experience, there were a lot more I had missed out on unfortunately. Nevertheless, it was an extremely fulfilling experience to be in the midst of a sea of people from various religions just having a whale of a time.