MYTH AND REALITY IN ONAM TRADITIONS
Legendary story behind the Onam celebration exposes the nostalgic feel of abundance which was the trade mark of the then Mavelinadu. Abundance is a way to envy too. The story also reveals Gods’ envy over legendary rulers who grabbed hearts and minds of their subjects.
Mahabali is one of the major martyrs of the envy. The king belongs to the Asura tradition. His regime was admired by everybody and became a celebrity all over, including the dais of Gods. The Mavelinadu was a kingdom with abundance where no theft, illegal practices and cheaters. Generosity was the embodiment of the king Mahabali.
The envious gods met, shared their anxiety and decided to teach the king a lesson; a lesson of cheating. Lord Vishnu was in charge of contacting Mahabali and implements the operation. Vishnu’s incarnation Vamana approached Mahabali. Vamana, a Brahmin dwarf boy begged the generous king for three steps of land. Mahabali granted the wish. Within seconds, Vamana grew into an enormous figure. The first step of the figure covered earth, the second one the heaven. The generous king became in a chaos. But he never went back to his promise. The king offered his head for Vamana to place his third step. The heavy step sent to Patala (beneath the earth). The envious gods sent a truthful king to hell. Vamana sanctioned permission to the king to visit his subjects once a year. The day is Onam. Every Malayali try their best to be in abundance in this day. The old saying “kanam vittum onam unnanam” (celebrate Onam even by selling the only piece of land) reflects the importance of Onam celebrations to Malayalis.
Onam is a harvest festival of Kerala. The celebrations are colored with beautiful pookkalams.The pookkalam begins on the day of Atham and ends on the day of Onam. It is the ‘formal inauguration’ of Onam festivities. Atham is the day in Malayalam month of Chingam. Atham pathu Ponnonam means tenth day of Atham is Onam. These ten days are decorated with pookkalams in front of every house. The much appreciated pookkalam is a floral tribute to the generous king Mahabali. Traditionally the flowers are collected from their own surroundings. Children were in the fore front of flower collection and making pookkalams. They collected local flowers and filled their baskets with the ‘brands’ like Thumba, Mukkuti, odapoo, Mandaram, Thechi, Krishnakireedam, Rajamalli, Shankhupushpam, Nangyarvattom and Aripoo. Kerala changed a lot due to social and political interventions. The state is far away from the agriculture and its cultural notions. So these flowers are not plenty now a day. Our children are not so much fond to collect flowers.
Mahabali was a comrade!!! Was he actually? We have no specific answer. But he was a champion of a ‘socialist’ society long years before such a concept is emerged. Nostalgia of Onam reminds the long marched prak communist life. It sustained in pre-historic era. People lived in gothras where everything was public. Tools, food items and products were not private entities. They shared everything among the members. There is no clash between rich and poor. Even the concept of richness is unaware of them. Naturally, they had no scope for tortures and torturing mechanisms. Scope for theft and cheating is limited. Limited resources and limited utilities made them to be shared. The means of attaining dreams were also depended the limited sources. Onam is tagged with a legendary tale. Still it provides an ethos of such a life, called prak communism. Communists dream such a world order to be established through revolutions. Listen what Engels says: “socialism is the expression of absolute truth, reason and justice and has only to be discovered to conquer the entire world by virtue of its own power.”
MARKET IN ONAM CELEBRATIONS
Market oriented economy is the champions of almost all festivals. Onam is not an exception. Take the case of pookkalams. It is one of the major competitions in Onam days in Kerala. Almost all organizations that offer Onam celebrations conduct the competition. A feel that ‘what is the relevance of Onam without a ‘pookkalam’ is built consciously. Actually the feel take away the heart and ambience of Onam, the harvest festive. Instead of collecting flowers from around, we depend the flower market. The traditional flowers are hijacked by Jasmins and Chrysanthemums flowered in private fields. Majority of flowers flow from Gundelpet and Bangalore. The flower market is alive round clock. Pookkalams became costly by the dependence and conscious efforts to showcase the tradition.
This season is not only good for flowers but also for all trades. Onam season is the major market field of brands. It is a period of competition among branded and unbranded products. Consumer products grab attention of buyers. All kinds of sellers consider this time as suitable season for trade. This is a season of discounts and offers.
Media market is also alive with colorful advertisements and varieties of products including special issues and publications. Book exhibitions and media trade fairs are common. To intensify the Keralites’ insatiable thirst and hunger for consumer goods and consumerism, media pour oil by ads and programmes that influence silently. Those who are stand apart from market are picturised in a comic way. Religious values and rituals are promoted by brand ambassadors. Really, their interest is trade. But the way make harm to the secular feel of the state. Media play a crucial role in it. Print and television media are in a festive mood in news presentation and the programme side. Malayalam television channels conducted their own celebrations. They are also hijacked by big advertisements and sponsorships as newspaper spaces. The sponsored programmes put a seed of consumer life and creep into the minds. The feel influences buying capabilities. Brand addiction is the new trend. To make addicted the advertisers fruitfully utilize the cultural and religious symbols. That is why Pookkalam, new dress and new products become the embodiment of Onama rather than the paddy field and agriculture. They are trying to place the symbols in a changed and different context. The context is established in and by media. Media managers are happy in the successful placement because the ad revenue is the backbone of their set ups.