Friday, December 01, 2023 | Jumada al-ula 16, 1445 H
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A walk down a festival memory lane


Festivals are an expressive way to embrace our culture, heritage and traditions which hold a unique place in our hearts. No matter in which part of the world we are, festivals are special moments of excitement that are meant to rejoice with our loved ones and build bonds with all people. They are the occasions when we try to imbibe our social values.

During festival time we become nostalgic and think about our childhood more than ever. Definitely, each one of us will have our own sentimental childhood reminiscences that bestow a sense of belonging and root connection.

This year I am back in my hometown in this south Indian state of Kerala, after over four decades of migrant life, to experience those past times exactly the same way one more time with the beginning of my favourite and cherished Onam -- a festival of flowers, happiness and prosperity.

I had the privilege in my life to witness its celebrations unfold in three different geographical spaces – from my hometown in Kerala to different states in north India and a few countries in the Gulf region.

Onam or the harvest festival of Kerala is part of the cultural repertoire of every Malayalee, who cherishes the memory of the legendary King Mahabali and his prosperous reign during which perfect communal harmony and prosperity prevailed.

Although this festival has its origin in Hindu mythology, Onam is for all people of all classes, creeds, and religions. And what I love about this festival is that the whole concept of it is that everyone is equal.

Though the festival comprises 10 days of fun and revelry, traditional art forms and games, they peak on Thiruvonam, with family and friends gathering together for an onasadhya, a feast which is quite elaborate and sumptuous home-cooked delicacies on plantain leaf.

While I write these lines, memories flood back into my mind! Reminiscences about my childhood and the simple ways of life that prevailed in my village back in those days. They spell a magical inner journey consisting of those priceless moments notwithstanding the fact that today, I really miss the lush green surroundings, full of blossoms, making an ideal backdrop for traditional Onam celebrations!

As children, Onam for us meant freedom and fun as we had holidays during this state festival. As teens, my friends and I would prepare at least a month before to find how best we could execute this year.

Eating was of less significance for us as compared to the elders as we enjoyed playing games, and joining in the folklore celebrations. I remember getting together to prepare a floral carpet called ‘pookalam’, in the courtyards.

Unfortunately, there is a huge difference in the celebrations that I experience now when compared to my childhood days. The festival has undergone several changes. It has been commercialised like many others.

As a result of commercialisation, festivals now mean spending money on frivolous stuff and slavish indulgence. They have become just a platform to build business and to show one's capabilities to others. They are little more than gigantic shopping sprees.

Look at the kitchen, it is full of readymade Onam kits. Unlike before when everything was homemade, people now do not want to spend time cooking a large feast. Even the Pookkalam has artificial flowers over the fresh ones!

Now, when I remember those golden days it really shook up my emotions. Regrettably, even love and friendship are measured by the cost of the gift. Young children are mostly affected by this trend of commercialisation because they are acquiring this materialistic view from their childhood.

As we celebrate this year's Onam or any festival, let us not only cherish the festivities underlying them but also regenerate the genuine experiences that define this celebration. Festivals bind us together and nurture a sense of nostalgia and happiness! After all, what we gain from our life is all such happiest moments!

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