Just to share a few thoughts that came to me this onam.
I've been celebrating onam right from childhood, it used to be fun. It brought with it a feeling of freshness, with monsoon withdrawing and the sun shining through after long days of heavy rains. I remember the times when I was living in the CU staff quarters ,there was lot of bare land all around and I used to go pluck flowers. I would get a few handfuls of the thumbapoo which I see rarely nowadays. And with all the flowers I would get the chemparathi was the most useful, because you could make big rounds with its petals. But still most of the pookalam was occupied by the flowers my father would buy from the market. The onasadhya was very different from the regular 'easy' foods we had during working days. The whole of the family was involved in the kitchen, starting from washing the vegetables, cutting them, grating coconut and all… Then we moved onto our new little home and I grew up I couldn't get the flowers. They were none and everything came from the market… The ten days we used to do the pookalam gradually came down to 4. 3. 2. and this year there was no pookalam. A sadhya was all that I had for onam.
But that is not what I was going to talk about. But may be because of the 'poor' onam I had this year, I was starting to think what this ONAM was all about? I'm not a person who stays back from festivals, and celebrations. They are indeed needed to relax the busy mind, especially these days. It’s the time to take a holiday from the busy lives and enjoy with family, friends and all. Frankly speaking, this thought about festival 'days' started to creep into my mind when there was a movement against valentines day… that these days were being promoted by the 'greeting cards and gift mafia!.' So I think 'who makes these 'days' for us to celebrate?' Similar is the case of the friendship day. Is it a day to celebrate friendship? But, I make use of it to remember and sometimes give a call to old forgotten friends. Ok , so coming back to onam….
What we know of onam is that it is the day when the old asura king mahabali or the 'maveli' is allowed to come to see his old rajyam and his 'prajakal' once a year. That he was long ago pushed down to 'pathalam' by vamana, the vishnu avatharam, just because he was so good to be an asura. And we receive him with the pookalam and maybe there is more to it. I don’t know. There might be people who believe this all happened in real, and maveli watches this all from the sky and he becomes happy and all that stuff. What I think is this is a typical 'myth'. I'm not sure where this all is written down.
In those times, agriculture was the primary occupation in our area, and people's lives were closely related to agriculture. Onam was harvest time and food was in plenty. Now there is no agriculture around here, and our neighboring states are doing it for us. and what we now celebrate is a modern onam, of which alcohol is an unavoidable part. No wonder the sales this onam were record breaking!
Something about which I'm really confused is, about onam being confined to the Hindu religion. What we see is that the only the Hindus are concerned about onam and the rest are not. Its true that onam is closely related to the Hindu gods and beliefs. But these might date back to the times where all the newer religions never existed. That means onam must have been celebrated in the times when there were no Christians or Muslims here. The times where there were no religion and what existed was the caste system. Where each caste had its own ways of celebrating onam. The higher castes had their colorful, luxurious ways and the lower castes had their own simple ways. The saying 'kaanam vittum onam unnanam' must have referred to the lower castes. I'm not sure of the entry of the foreign religions into our state. All of the muslims and christians did not immigrate from other countries, that's sure. The newer religions, through their missionaries offered hope of a better life to the oppressed classes in India, and many of them converted. Majority of the conversions to Christianity occurred in the times of the British rule, and Islam from Arabia must have influenced Indian people much before that, probably the first influence came as Babarin the 17th century. So the people who converted were mostly the lower classes, who were not much aware of the Hindu literature (mostly the Vedas and Upanishads I believe) and religion. Now these people left behind their old religion, and along with it, their traditions and customs, and accepted a new foreign culture, as it gave hopes of a better life, and it did that's true. It is these people who are the Indian Muslims and the Indian Christians. So it is reasonable that they abandon their old gods and myths, and along with it festivals and celebrations like onam and vishu.
Let us understand that we were all Indians first, descended from ancestors who had a common idea about GOD. But we now differ in just the ways in which we approach GOD, the ways of thinking about him, and pleasing him every day. About ways to get to heaven because we fear to go to Hell! It must be a hell of a place ! :D
and we continue to celebrate 'days' described in 'our' religion and stay away from 'theirs'.