It is after a gap of almost a decade that I am getting an opportunity to join my family to celebrate our state festival back in my hometown in the Southern Indian state of Kerala.
But, alas! I will be joining them, although in virtual celebrations, with the handicap of the strain and pain left behind by the dreaded coronavirus pandemic! The glitter, excitement and enthusiasm seem to have been subdued and mired in monochrome tones as the celebrations are submerged in social distancing due to the coronavirus spread.
The Covid-19 has changed the very nature of all festivities across the world. People are celebrating festivals in their homes, some ceremonies being livestreamed on social media platforms to maintain the very spirit of festivals. Yet people with a penchant for wordplay have yanked an adage connected with Onam – a festival to resonate that people must celebrate it even if they have to sell their property... Onam, like all other festivities, has taken a virtual turn. Schools, colleges, clubs, residents’ associations, companies and artists have taken to the virtual world to celebrate it in all its grandeur.
Joining the celebrations are social media groups where people who have never met in person come together for a mega Onam celebration through virtual performances and contests. People will be participating in digital Onam celebrations, with many of them designing digital floral carpets, performing traditional art forms from their homes, preparing the feast live and organising games.
Other than celebrations, the delicious Onam dishes too are being shared as part of the festivities. With the lockdown removed and shops were given permission to open strictly in accordance with the Covid-19 protocol, people started queuing up to buy food items and flowers. While big celebrations will be missing due to the measures taken by the administration, tomorrow marks the beginning of the 10-day long festivities under the shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic, people are still enthusiastic even though the celebrations will be subdued for the second consecutive year.
Onam is primarily a harvest festival celebrated in the month of Chingam that marks the beginning of the Malayalam calendar, Kollavarsham. On the Gregorian Calendar, it falls in the month of August-September. According to the legend, this is when the powerful and benevolent King Mahabali came back from hell to the earth every year to meet his people since being sent to Patal (hell) by Vaman, a dwarf Brahmin avatar of Lord Vishnu. His revisit marks the 10-day long celebration of Onam since the Sangam period in India. Festivals like Onam revive and reinforce togetherness with kith and kin and instil a sense of camaraderie, strengthens personal bonds and helps us build a support system for life.
It creates joy amidst the rush of daily life. But the novel coronavirus has deprived us of these simple joys as well. From children to the elderly, everyone has had their routines thrown out of gear. Of course, the washout of cheer and festivities is indeed causing worries and frustration. Yet as reasonable humans, we should not let it take over our senses.
We are passing through unprecedented times of distress and pain, a situation which even our forefathers had not seen. Our objective now is to defeat the invisible virus that has claimed millions of lives and left many ill. We have to do what it takes to keep us safe, even if it is unpleasant!