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A lovable myth

If there is one myth that so many people in Kerala love irrespective of religion, it is the story about Mahabali coming to visit his people once a year. Onam is one of the great unifiers in our state. It is that time of the year that is marked by bonhomie and cheer. It is a time for flowers, food and fun.

The myth about Mahabali visiting is well known and loved, the story of the benevolent King coming to visit his people and his people who look forward to the visit. It is believed that when the Asura king Mahabali ruled, this land was a land of plenty. In order to impress upon the visiting king of the prosperity of his land no efforts are spared to make the `visit' a happy one.

Preparations for Onam begin well in advance, and these are manifold. From the `atta pookalam' that is a floral version of Rangoli welcomes Mahabali to everyone's homes. The month of `chingam' follows `karkadakam', if the preceding month was considered inauspicious, the first day of Chingam is the beginning of the New Year according to the Malayalam calendar. Hindus welcome the month of Chingam with the mandatory visit to the temple followed by feasting and celebrations. Though Onam is celebrated sometime in mid-Chingam, festivities begin much in advance with shopping for new clothes to wear during the four - day Onam

Celebrations.

Pookalams add grace and beauty to homes, swings get tied in homes, goodies such as banana chips are made, trips to ancestral homes planned; in general, Onam is a good time for everybody. The ten-day vacations that school children get makes the festival even more loved. It is that time of the year when all differences are forgotten and everybody comes together in the spirit of celebration. Shopping gains precedence over every other activity, buying and gifting become the order of the day. Traditionally the elders of the family present new clothes to younger members. These days there is slight change with the youngsters presenting parents and grandparents new clothes. And it is not only people and their homes that undergo change, but also cities. Cities are spruced up, different parts of a city are illuminated transforming it into a visual treat.

There has been a sea change in the way people celebrate Onam. Several aspects of the traditional celebrations are given a go in favour of compact festivities. Maybe the swings do not always get tied and pookalams don't get put as there is no place since an increasing number of people live in apartments, for the eatables there are a million shops, and trips to ancestral homes do not always materialize due to hectic schedules and four-day (in some cases five - days) festivities are shrunk to a single day - Thiruvonam.

Hectic schedules and nuclear families maybe responsible some extent for the change in the way Onam is celebrated, but despite the odds against it, Onam continues to celebrated every year with even more fervour than the previous year, and continues to be

a very important part of the Malayali's calendar. When the Malayali gets a new calendar one of the first things he wants to know is...

When is Onam this year?

Shilpa Nair

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