Friday, August 17, 2007

Onam

Onam ( Malayalam: ഓണം) is an annual harvest festival, celebrated mainly in the Indian state of Kerala. It is the foremost festival among the cultural repertoire of Malayalees, and falls during the month of Chingam (August-September as per the Gregorian calendar), the first month of the Malayalam calendar and lasts for ten days. Though it is essentially a harvest festival of Malayalees, mythologically it is linked to Malayalee-Hindu folktales. Like many other religious festivals in India, Onam is celebrated by people of all religions .



1 Significance
2.Pookalam
3 Legend
4 The Temple
5Atham pathinu ponnonam
6 Onam activities

Significance
Onam is the one of the most beautiful and meaningful festival in the World. Onam has been part of Malayalee psyche for centuries. There are records of Onam being celebrated during the Sangam Age. The earliest record of Onam is found during time of Kulasekhara Perumals around A.D 800, soon after the Kalabhra Interregnum of Kerala History. Until the eighth century the political history is mostly unknown and is usually known as the Kalabhra Interregnum. Kalabhras were supposed to have been ruling Kerala until at least the sixth century. Kalabhras probably refers to Keralaputras. Who were they?. It was most probably the people of Mahabali. Onam has two specific significance.First it is the communal memory and celebration of past history as ennunciated in the Mahabali Legend. A story of how paradise was lost.Second it is the celebration of the harvest tied with the memory of the golden age of prosperity. It is believed that during those days the whole of Chingam was celebrated as Onam season.After the rain drenched month of Karkidakam with its privations, Chingam is a welcome month for people in the state of Kerala. The festival is the harbinger of spring — signalling the start of the harvest season. Onam epitomizes the newfound vigour and enthusiasm of the season, and is celebrated with traditional fervour with visit to temples, family get-togethers, gifting each other clothes called Onakkodi and lots of merry making.





Pookalam

Pookalam is an intricate and colourful arrangement of flowers laid on the floor. Tradition of decorating Pookalam is extremely popular in Kerala and is followed as a ritual in every household during ten-day-long Onam celebrations.'Pookhalam' consists of two words, 'poov' meaning flower and 'kalam' means colour sketches on the ground. It is considered auspicious to prepare Pookalam, also known as 'Aththa-Poo' during the festival of Onam. People believe the spirit of their dear King Mahabali visits Kerala at the time of Onam. Besides making several other arrangements, people, especially adolescent girls prepare elaborate Pookalams to welcome their most loved King.

Making of a Pookalam Kilo and kilos of flowers, lot of dedication, creativity, technique and team effort are the basic essential of an eye catching Pookkalam.Athapoovu are usually circular in shape and multi-tiered colourful arrangements of flowers, petals and leaves. Use of powder colours, desiccated coconut or artificial flowers is prohibited. Pookalams are normally laid on the front court yard of the house. Idols of Mahabali and Vishnu are placed in the center of the Pookalam and worshiped. Diameter of a Pookalam normally ranges from four to five meters. Ritual of making the flower mats continues for all ten days of Onam. Designing starts from the day of Atham and is made ready by Thiruvonam day.


Basic design is prepared on the first day. Size of a Pookalam is increased by adding more to it on every passing day hence a massive Pookalam gets ready for the main day of the occasion. Its a big creative task, as designers have to think of a new design ever day. Various flowers are used on each day as a specific flower is dedicated to each day of Onam. Commonly used flowers include Thumba (Lucas Aspera), Kakka Poovu, Thechipoovu, Mukkutti (little tree plant), Chemparathy (shoe flower), Aripoo or Konginipoo (Lantana), Hanuman Kireedom (Red pagoda plant) and Chethi (Ixora). Of all these flowers, Thumba flowers are given more importance in Pookalam as they are small in size and glitter in the the soft rays of the sun. 'Thumba Poo' is also considered to be the favourite flower of Lord Shiva and King Mahabali was a devout worshipper of Shiva.On the next day of Onam, Thumba flowers are used to decorate Onapookalam. The arrangement is not touched for the next 15 days.

On the 15 th day, called 'Ayilyam', Pookalam is decorated again. On the next day, called Magam, Pookalam is given a cut in its four corners with a knife. This marks the end of Pookalam decorations for the year. Some also follow the tradition of erecting a small pandal over the completed flower carpet and decorating it with colourful festoons.Making of Pookalam is itself a colourful and joyous event. Being a team effort it helps to generate feeling of togetherness and goodwill amongst the people. It is animating to watch women as they prepare Pookalam while singing traditional songs. Giggling and sharing jokes between the thought provoking and back breaking job.










Trends Earlier, people used to make efforts to collect flowers for designing a Pookalam. Children used to get up early in the morning and gather flowers in their small 'Pookuda' (basket) from the village gardens. These days, the trend has changed and people have the option of buying flowers from the market in the shape and colour of their choice. Pookalam decoration competitions are organised by various societies and groups all over the state on the day of Onam.

They have become extremely popular and witness huge public participations. Big prizes are also kept in these contests as they have turned up to be extremely competitive events. A large number of people assemble just to have a look at the innovative and meticulously prepared art pieces. A beautiful design, though it is said, is created in the heart, use of technology is also in vogue in designing of a Pookalam. People prepare design first on computer and then implement it on floor. This saves a lot of time and energy and helps the designers to come up with stunning Pookalams.





Legend
Kashyapa had two wives, Diti and Aditi, who were the parents of demons and demigods (Asuras and Devas) respectively. As the common practice in those days, for a King invading another kingdom to acquire additional territory, Indra, the king of demigods went on war with the king of Asuras. Mahabali, the King of Asuras defeated Indra and proceed to occupy Indra's territory. Kashyapa, who had gone to the Himalayas to do penance, on his return, found Aditi weeping over the defeat of her son, Indra. By divine insight, Kashyapa recognised the cause of grief. Kashyapa tried to console Aditi who was wailing in grief, saying that nothing happens in the world without God's will and people should go on doing their duties. Kashyapa asked Aditi to pray to Lord Narayana and taught her Payovrata, ritual that has to be observed from the twelfth day of the bright half Karthika (Sukla-paksha Dwaadasi). Since Aditi carried out the Vrata with a pious heart, Lord Narayana appeared before her and informed her that he would himself take birth in her womb and help Indra. Later, on the twelfth day of the bright half of the month of Bhadrapada,Aditi gave birth to a son of uncommon effulgence. That child, "Vamana-murti", demonstrated His divine powers by doing marvelous deeds even when he was a child.
Balichakravarthi (Bali, The Emperor) or Mahabali, was the grandson of Prahlad, the son of Hiranyakasipu who was slayed by Vishnu in his Narasimha Avatar. Hiranyksha the brother of Hiranya Kasipu was slayed by Vishnu in his Varaha Avatar earlier. Prahalad being an Asura had great faith in Vishnu but his father, who was a devotee of Lord Brahma was very angry and hated all other devas but Lord Brahma. One cannot miss the series of warfare between Vishnu and the Asuras - those born of the breath of God.[citation needed] Asuras did not acknowledge Vishnu as God. Bali Maharaj, sat in Prahlad's lap as a child and learnt love and devotion of Lord Vishnu from Prahlad. As a result the Hindus of Kerala, are very devoted to Lord Vishnu to this day and Vishnu in turn is said to love the Keralites very much. The Keralites perform the Mohiniattam Dance, a dance dedicated to the female form of Vishnu, Mohini. There is also the dance Krishnanaattam. Many Keralites also worship Narayani. Sri Narayani Peedam and Sri Bangaru Adigalar of Kerala and their followers claim that these two figures are a forms or avatars of the goddess Sri Narayani.
Mahabali's rule was the golden era of India. The celebration of Onam resounds and chants the following song all over Kerala:

' When Maveli, our King, ruled the land,All the people were as One.And people live joyful and merry;They were all free from harm.There was neither anxiety nor sickness,Death of the children were never even heard of,There were no lies,There is neither theft nor deceit,And no one is false in speech either.Measures and weights were right;No one cheated or wronged their neighbor.When Maveli, our King, ruled the land,All the peoples formed one casteless race.'
Mahabali who was performing the sacrificial rite of Viswajith at the banks of Narmada River, (Central India) and declared that he would give anything that anyone sought from him during this Yagna. At this the gods were very annoyed. Bali was the ruler of all the three worlds having defeated the devas. The gods approached Vishnu and asked for his help to dethrone Mahabali. Vishnu, incarnated in the form of Vamana, a dwarf to defeat the Daityas.
Vamana came to the Yaga-shala. As he was approaching them, the sages assembled there perceived the extraordinary effulgence form of the young lad. Mahabali went forth to receive the Brahmin boy with all traditional honours and gave him an eminent seat befitting the status of a holy person. Bali with the usual courtesy given to the people who come to ask for help told him Master! It is my good fortune that you have chosen to honour me with your presence. Whatever you desire, I am here ready to fulfil the same. Vamana smiled and said: "You need not give me anything great. It is enough if you give me that extend of land covered by three footsteps of mine".

On hearing him, Bali's preceptor, Shukracharya a Daitya priest, who could have vision of the future told Bali that the one, who had come to seed a gift from Bali was not an ordinary Brahmin but Lord Narayana Himself who had assumed this form. He advised Bali not to promise the lad anything. But Bali was a king who would never go back on his word and told his Guru that he would never break his promise. He was determined to give Vamana whatever he wanted since breaking one's word was a sin and he had to keep his pledge Shukracharya insisted that he should not fulfil the demand of Vamana as he had come to deprive Bali of all His possessions.
Bali, however, was determined to honour the word given to Vamana, begged pardon of his Guru for disregarding his advice. Earlier, while Bali was embarking on the war with Indra, he had prostrated at the feet of his preceptor, Shukracharya, and on his advice he performed the Vishwajit Yagna from which he secured very powerful weapons. It was only because of Shukracharya's help that he was able to conquer Indra. On this occasion, Bali was not prepared to heed the advice of the same preceptor. Shukracharya cursed Bali, saying: 'As you have not heeded your Guru's words, you will be reduced to ashes'. Bali was firm and replied: 'I am prepared to face any consequence but will not go back on my word'.

Saying so, he asked Vamana to measure the three feet of land as desired by him. All attempts of Shukracharya to dissuade Bali from offering the land desired by Vamana proved futile. Bali considered everyone who came to him as god himself and never refused anyone anything that they have asked. Bali told his Guru: "Prana (life) and Maana (honour) are the two eyes of a person. Even if life goes, honour should be protected. Granting that the person that has come now is the Lord Himself, I should be the most fortunate one as the Lord, who gives everything to mankind, is seeking something from me."

Vamana grew in size until he towered above the heavens. With one foot, he measured all of the earth. With the other, he claimed all of heaven. There was still one foot of territory that Bali owed him. Bali offered his head to be measured as the third step of land which Lord Vamana had asked for as alms. For the devotion of this Daitya Mahabali, Lord Vishnu (Vamana) granted him rule over Patala. Vamana aka Vishnu granted Bali the boon that he would hold the position of Indra for one Manvantara , thus fulfilling his devotee's desire ( the office of Indra being a rotating position , changing every Manvantara ) .

As a last wish Mahabali was granted the permission to visit his subjects once a year. Thus, Keralites celebrate Onam festival to commemorate the memory of a Great King Mahabali who would keep his promise. Mahabali fulfilled his name as the great martyr for the sake of Truth ("Satya"). The name "Mahabali" itself means Great Sacrifice. Thus Onam celebrates a series of martyrdom of the devoted Daityas.

During Onam, the feast and festive mood of the people, dressed in their best, is considered reminiscent of the prosperous and truthful life of the subjects during Bali's flawless reign. People wear new clothes (Vastra) during Onam. The 'Vastra' also stands for heart. Thus the significance of wearing new clothes is about making the heart new by removing all bad thoughts and feelings. People forgetting their sectarian outlooks, join together to welcome the auspicious 'Thiruvonam' day.

This is the only festival which is celebrated by the Thomas Christians of Kerala along with the Hindus.

The Temple
It is said that a temple was erected around the location where this incident took place. This temple stands over a large area in Thrikkakara, Ernakulam, in Kerala. Onam is celebrated here with great fanfare every year, and concludes with a well-known fireworks show. HI

Atham pathinu ponnonam

The ten-day celebrations of Onam start on Atham day. Earthen mounds, which look somewhat like square pyramids, representing Mahabali and Vishnu are placed in the dung-plastered courtyards in front of the house and beautifully decorated with flowers. Known as ‘Onapookkalam’, it is a carpet made out of the gathered blossoms with one or two varieties of foliage of differing tints pinched up into little pieces to serve the decorator's purpose. It is a beautiful work of art accomplished with a delicate touch and a highly artistic sense of tone and blending. (In a similar manner North Indians make something called "Rangoli" which is made of powders of various colors.) When completed, a miniature pandal, hung with little festoons is erected over it.




The important part of the festival opens in some localities on Thiruvonam day and in others on the previous day known as Utradam. On Thiruvonam day, King Mahabali is believed to visit every Malayalee home and meet his people. Houses are cleaned and decorated with flowers and traditional lamps. A fabulous display of fireworks turns the capital Thiruvananthapuram into a veritable fairyland. Sumptuous feasts are prepared in every household. The eldest member of each family presents clothes to all the members of the family. Even the poorest of the poor manage to find something for himself to celebrate the national festival in his own humble way.

Thiruvathira kali
Onam comes in the month of "Chingam" according to the Malayalam calendar. People put flower mats in front of their houses, to welcome King Mahabali. There will be competition for the laying of flower mats; Keralites all over the world will be celebrating this ten days will pomp and gaiety. They will wear new dresses, will be visiting almost all temples which they can, they will be performing lot of dances like Thiruvathira kali Thumbi Tullal etc. to name a few and the most important thing is the grant lunch they will be having on the Thiuruvonam day. Which is also called the Fourth Onam. Whatever may happen they will not miss the Grant lunch (sadhya). There is a saying in Malayalam that "Kanam Vittum Onam Unnanam" which means "We should have the Thiruonam lunch even if we have to sell all our properties" which shows the importance of the grand lunch on the Thiruvonam day.



Onam is celebrated with focus on different cultural aspects in each place. Athachamayam- a cultural procession takes place in the royal town of Tripunithura near Ernakulam-Kochi, on the Atham day of Chingam, which also marks the beginning of Onam celebrations. At the Vamanamoorthy temple in Thrikkakara, the annual temple festival coincides with Onam. The temple is dedicated to Lord Vamana and is directly linked to the mythological background of Onam.




At Shornur, Kathakali dancers in gorgeous costumes enact the legends. A strikingly impressive procession of caparisoned elephants is taken out at Thrissur.



The celebrations begin within a fortnight of the Malayalam New Year and go on for ten days. The last day called the Thiruvonam is the most important. All over the state, rituals along with new clothes, traditional cuisine, dance, and music mark this harvest festival.



In Thrissur, a vibrant procession with resplendently caparisoned elephants is taken out while at Cheruthuruthy, people gather to watch Kathakali performers enact scenes from epics and folk tales. Pulikali, also known as Kaduvakali is a common sight during Onam season. Performers painted like tigers in bright yellow, red and black, dance to the beats of instruments like Udukku and thakil.









At Aranmula, during Onam days the famous Aranmula Vallam Kali is conducted.
The swing is another integral part of Onam, especially in the rural areas. Young men and women, decked in their best, sing Onappaattu, or Onam songs, and rock one another on swings slung from high branches.

Onam activities

A typical onam sadhya


The most important things about Onam are the onakkodi, the new dress worn on this day and onam sadhya, a feast which is quite elaborate. This is usually a feast served on banana leaves and serves rice along with at least an array of 4 dishes. Traditional pickles and papadam are also served . Dessert - is usually 'payasam ' a sweet dish made of milk, sugar and other traditional Indian savories.





During Onam, people create a multi-coloured floral decoration on the ground in the front of their home called pookkalam. Young children especially girls are often entrusted with the task of gathering and laying out the flowers in elaborate patterns. Competitions are held on onam day to create this floral design. It is usually 1.5m in Diameter usually in circular shape. A lamp is usually placed as part of the design.



The Vallamkali (the snake boat race) is another event that is synonymous with Onam. Well-known races include the Aranmula Boat Race and the Nehru Trophy Boat Race. About 100 oarsmen row huge and graceful snake boats and men and women come from far and near to watch the snake boats skim through the water.



This festival is also important because of its popularity with all communities within Kerala. Although the festival of Onam originated with, and is connected to the Hindu religion, it is celebrated today with equal fervour by the Hindus, Muslims and Christians of Kerala.










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