Celebrations surrounding Onam, the harvest festival of Keralites, takes on gigantic proportions in the Arabian Gulf and in Oman
When you see pouches of banana chips, mixed vegetable hampers, and ‘Payasam’ ingredients adorning large sections of some popular supermarkets in town, you realise that Onam is round the corner. And when you see people hailing from the south Indian state of Kerala dressed in traditional attire criss-crossing the city thoroughfares, you know – It’s Onam!
Festivities surrounding the annual harvest festival go on for ten days, though the main celebration is on ‘Thiruvonam’, August 29 this year when people enjoy traditional fanfare in homes as well as in the community – Onasadhya, the festive lunch being the hallmark of the celebrations.
The best part of this festival is that, religious affiliations apart, people of all faiths in Kerala participate in the cultural traditions associated with this festival. And since a large section of the Indian diaspora in Oman comprise the Malayalees from Kerala, this festival is widely celebrated.
Elizabeth Davis, a Keralite from Kochi, said, “Onam is synonymous with Kerala. It never struck me for a long time that it was actually a Hindu festival for the very reason that it was enthusiastically celebrated by Malayalees all over the world as their harvest festival. It also appeals to us as it is paradoxically the demon King Mahabali, who was so popular, that the Gods felt jealous of him.”
She further said, “I would also like to add that this universality in celebrations is the case with most festivals in Kerala – be it Christmas or Eid or Vishu. Malayalees are more patriotic when they are away from Kerala, and most Onam festivities outside Kerala are held with greater fervour. We put the ‘pookalams’ (colourful designs made with flowers), dress in our ‘kasavu’ (cream coloured drape with a golden border) sarees/mundus and prepare the lavish onasadhya on banana leaves. In fact, I often feel that Onam celebration in the Middle East goes on till Christmas!”
Alex Joseph, another expatriate hailing from Kottayam, reiterated, “Onam celebrations go beyond religious barriers; in fact, it is a festival that unites people. Being a harvest festival, it is the privilege of everyone to celebrate Onam. Let me speak in the context of Onam celebrations by other religions in Kerala – people mostly wear the dress unique to the occasion and actively participate in the various fun games organised as part of Onam celebrations. The message of peace, love, unity and humanity is something common to all religions; therefore, Onam finds a commendable place with every individual irrespective of their faith.”
The highlights of this festival are Onakkodi (new clothes) pookkalam (flower designs at home or in the front yard), Onasadhya (traditional lunch), kaikottikkali (folk dances), said Rema Sivakumar, an expatriate from Kerala and long time resident in Oman, adding “Nothing beats celebrating Onam in Kerala – waking up at 6am to pick flowers for the pookalam. One of the biggest differences in celebrating Onam in Oman is that celebrations here are restricted to the boundaries of the household, offices or restaurants. In Kerala, the festivities mostly take place outdoors.”
She further recalled childhood celebrations in Kerala which was marked by much fanfare, especially the boat races, tug-o-war, pulikali (tiger dance), etc which everyone looks forward to. These are absent in the Guld but the huge Malayalee presence in Oman or the Gulf regions calls for celebrating Onam with grandeur.
Rema also pointed out, for the younger generation residing all over the world, celebrating this festival helps in creating a beautiful bond with the culture of Kerala. Onam festival plays a crucial role in preserving Kerala’s traditions and passing them on to future generations. It fosters an appreciation for the state’s cultural heritage and installs a sense of pride among the youth.”
“Onam isn’t just a festival,it’s a journey through the heart and soul of Kerala. It’s an invitation to embrace and celebrate Kerala’s art, culture, and traditions,” she asserted.