Since the beginning of time, our culture and thoughts have been shaped by our stories and the folktales that have been recited to us by our parents and grandparents. When repeated over a period of time, they become our traditions. While Onam is a harvest festival and the style of celebration is different each year, we all stay true to our roots. After all, we are one big family.
‘Ammuma’ (Grandma) used to gloat, about her childhood, and her Onam days. She and her cousins would wake up early in the morning, take a bath in the ‘Ambala Kolam’ (Temple Pond) and rush home excitedly to see the new clothes and ornaments laid down on their beds. These clothes usually used to be ‘pattum paavada’ for the young girls and set mundu for the older ones. She smiles while she says how she and her cousins would pick their favourite jewellery from the ‘Abharna Petti’ (Jewel Box) and wait eagerly for the fresh-smelling ‘mullapoo’ (jasmine flowers) to adorn their hair.
They would then rush to the kitchen back to see their Amma, Ammayi and Muttashi cook the ‘Onam Sadhya’ (Onam meal) and prepare the house for lunch. Ammuma’s face lights up in excitement as she describes how they went to pluck ‘poo’ from the ‘thottam’ (garden) to put the ‘pookalam’ (floral arrangement) in their ‘mittam’ (courtyard). While arranging the flowers, one of the uncles would come dressed as Mahabali (the king), and they would run around him and take his blessings. Some of them would even dress up as tigers for the ‘Pulikali’. The older women of the house call out to them for their meals served on ‘vaazha eela’ (banana leaf). It’s served as a 9-course meal with 24 dishes and ‘mooninnam payasam’ (3 types of sweet savoury)—Avizhayal, Sambar, Thoran, Pullissery and more.
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The women would then dress up in similar set mundu while the others would rush to the ‘kaayal’ (backwaters) watch the ‘vellamkalli’ (race with boats in the lagoons). The winner usually gets a ‘pazhakola’ (branch of bananas). The women of the house would perform ‘thiruvathira’ (a form of dance) around the lamp, welcoming prosperity into the home. Lots of singing, dancing and gifts are exchanged. Relatives gather from far and wide. It’s a celebration, indeed.
Ammuma giggles when she says she has memories of more than 50 Onams, each one unique from the other. Today as Keralites celebrate Onam cooped up in their houses due to the Pandemic, we will not step back from putting pookalams in front of our doors and cooking Onam sadhya.
When she looks back on her olden days, her eyes are numb but I begin to realize what these memories mean to her. During the current days, while we focus on Instagram feed and Facebook memories, Ammuma spends her days reminiscing her childhood while sitting on the ‘padipura’ and looking out into our verandah.