Home Culture Onam, harvest festival, in the times of a Pandemic

Onam, harvest festival, in the times of a Pandemic

The harvest festival, Onam, is being celebrated in Kerala. The 1-day festival began on August 22 and will end on September 2. The grand celebrations are on August 31, which is called the Thiru Onam day. But in view of the pandemic, the celebrations are just a little bit different this year.

This year, most festivities have been muted and low-key, maintaining proper social distancing, keeping in mind the global pandemic. The Onam celebrations in Kerala are no different. Life and celebrations go on despite the Covid-19 pandemic, with precautions.

How Kerela is preparing for the Onam festivities differently?

Pinarayi Vijayan, Chief Minister of Kerala, said people should celebrate Onam reception and use locally available flowers for the normal floral carpets in view of the Covid-19 situation.

ഇന്ന് അത്തം. ജാതിയുടേയും മതത്തിന്റെയും അതിർ വരമ്പുകൾ ഭേദിച്ചുകൊണ്ട് നമ്മൾ മലയാളികൾ ഒത്തു ചേരുന്ന ഓണാഘോഷത്തിന് ഇന്നു…

Posted by Pinarayi Vijayan on Saturday, August 22, 2020

The Kerala government on Thursday, August 27, began distributing special Onam food kits to ration card holders.

These food kits will be distributed till August 29.

It comprises 11 items – sugar, jaggery, green gram, coconut oil, chili powder, coriander powder, turmeric powder and sambar powder. A shop owner in Thiruvananthapuram lauded the initiative.

Some of the key rituals:

On Onam, people decorate their houses with pookalams,  an arrangement of flowers and wear new clothes.

A special meal called the Onam Sadya is prepared and consumed, which incorporates 20-25 items, traditionally served on a banana leaf.

Onam-Sadya-Utkal-Today
Onam-Sadya | Image: Chitra’s Food Book

Why is Onam celebrated?

Onam commemorates the return of mythical demon King Mahabali to ascertain his subjects at the start of Chingam, which is the primary month of the Malayalam calendar.

Celebration of Onam | Image: Pinterest

King Mahabali is traditionally welcomed with a carpet of flowers, or the pookalam.

 On Thiru Onam, it is believed that King Mahabali visited the residents’ houses.

Also read: Ganesh Chaturthi: Celebrating the God of wisdom

Onam 2020

Due to strict restrictions imposed by the government to avoid gathering of crowds, unlike the past, one would hardly see any Mahabalis this year.

Many artists, who dress up as the benevolent king every year, are out of work this time.

Bank employee P.G. Vijayan from Kochi, who has been a regular Mahabali, said he usually grows his moustache and puts on weight for the “Mahabali belly”, three months prior to Onam.

 “This year, as we couldn’t go out much for a walk even, my belly naturally grew out. But I didn’t grow my moustache as I could see the chances of celebrations were low.

“Moreover, I have a baby grandson now and want to stay infection-free for him. I used to get at least eight programmes every year, but this time there’s hardly any,” he said.

Vijayan added: “Police should ensure that social distancing is maintained by the people who go out for Onam shopping. No public celebrations should be allowed.”

onam-covid-utkal-today
Image: Suvi Vijay (Instagram)

Indoor Onam

Unlike previous years, there was no colourful rally on the streets of nearby Tripunithura on Saturday, as people largely celebrated the Atham festival indoors, marking the beginning of the 10-day festivities in Kerala, under the shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The low-key celebrations began with Tripunithura MLA M Swaraj hoisting the Atham flag symbolically at Tripunithura, officials said.

Hundreds of people including foreign tourists, would gather at Tripunithura to enjoy the Athachamayam procession amidst floats and folk-dance performances, they said.

The Ernakulam district administration issued an advisory, banning public celebrations in view of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In the days of kings, the Maharaja of Kochi used to participate in the procession from Tripunithura to the Vamanamoorthy temple at Thrikkakara.

According to legend, the festival is widely known to welcome King Mahabali, whose spirit is believed to go to Kerala at the time of Onam to ascertain the well being of his subjects.

Anwesha Mishra
Anwesha hails from Odisha and is pursuing her bachelor's degree in English Literature from Ravenshaw University. She is a voracious reader and a writer. Apart from that, she's also a singer.

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