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April 03, 2008


Incredible Kerala’s

Kerala At a Glance

Population : 4 Crore (Approximate)
Total area : 38,863 sq km which is 1.18 per cent of the area of Indian Union
Population density : 819/sq km
Forest area : 9,400 sq km
Average annual rainfall : 3,107mm
Length of coastal line : 580 km
Literacy rate : 90.2 percent
Sex ratio : 1058females per 1000 males
No of revenue villages : 1,452
State GDP : (2001-2002): Rs. 69,602 crore
Gdp growth : 4.7 percent
Per capita income : Rs. 11,046 (at constant prices)
Life expectancy : 72 years
Birth rate : 18.3 per 1000(National: 29.2)
Infant mortality rate : 16 per 1000(National: 68)Power production in the state(2002-2003)
hydel power : 4868.85 million units
thermal power : 2559 million units
diesel power : 644million units
wind power : 2.24 million units
from central grid : 4338.97 million units
no of Airports : 3 + the naval airports in Kochi
No. of Int. airports : 3
No of major ports : 1
No of small ports : 16
Total length of national
Highway : 1560.1 Km.
No of rivers : 44
No of lakes : 34
No of dams : 39
Length of inland waterways : 440 Km
No of national parks : 2 (Iravikulam, silent valley)
No of wild life sanctuaries : 12

HAPPY ONAM (Onam pageants)

(Take a trip back to the legend and rituals of the annual celebration.)

Onam, regarded as the chide festival of Kerala. Celebrated by one and all, irrespective of caste and community, has now become an occasion for togetherness. The festival of flowers, bountiful harvest and prosperity, now pulls far a way families into the fold of the tharavdu (ancestral home), albeit for a brief time. Under these circumstances it is worthwhile to take a trip back to the legend and rituals of this annual celebration.

Onam comes in the first month of the Malayalam year ‘Chingam’ coming soon after the bitter and sullen sobriety of ‘Karkitakam’ ‘Chingam’ heralded the advent of a new harvest season, bidding adieu to miseries of the hygone year. Traditionally the festival is celebrated in memory and in honour of the legendary king of Kerala, Mahabali. The legend has it that Mahabali who was an asura (a race which had negative divinity) king, contrary to his race inclinations was a just ruler and during his regime people enjoyed parity, affection and tranquility. There was neither corruption, betrayal nor thieves and, there were only haves and no have-nots. He in turn was loved and respected by his people, so much so that it evoked the jealousy of the Devas, a divine race close to Lord Mahavishnu. The Devas finally approached Lord Vishnu to get rid of Mahabali. In disguise as ‘Vamana’, Mahavishnu appeared in front of Mahabali and asked for three feet of land to stay. The kind agreed to give him land anywhere he wished and Vamana a suddenly grew into a giant, measuring the whole earth with one foot and with other, the sky. When he asked for the remaining promised land, realizing that the person standing in front of him is not an ordinary person, the king bent down and requested him to ploace the third foot on his head. Vishnu kept his feet on the king’s head and pushed him down to pathala (earth) the underworld. As the kind was a just ruler, the lord was kind enough to allow him to visit his kingdom once a year and it is believed that the king visits his people on the thiruvonam day.

Another legend is that in the olden times of poverty and famine, harvest season was much looked forward to by all. This was the time when people got to eat sumptuously and bought new clothes and thanked God for the harvest. People immersed themselves in merry-making palying various games, knowing that they had to keep these memories till the next harvest came about.

Onam is celebrated as a 10 day festival starting on Atham day and culminating on Thiruvonam day. To welcome the erstwhile king, flower carpets are displayed on these ten days using flowers specific to the land and season. Flowers like jasmine, rose, shoe-flower, thumba and green leaves are arranged in a circular manner with thrikkakaraappan (clay statue of Lord Vishnu) occupying the centre. ‘atham’ carnival is an important event people look out for. Tableaux depicting puranic characters and incidents are the usual fare. Of late, thee also reflect political satires. Temples will have special performances of kathakali. In thrissur district of the state, a procession of caparisoned elephants is taken out and the festival ends here with fireworks. Boat races are conducted at Aranmula where the famous parthasarathy temple is located, on the fifth day after thiruvonam day and is known as ‘Uthatadi Vallamkali’ raes are conducted in honour of the lord parthasarathy, the deity of the temple boats belonging to the villages situated along the banks of river pampa participate in this race. Oarsmen, all barefooted men wearing white dhotis and headgears, steer these boats for about forty kilometers, singing traditional boat songs known as vanjippattu. These oarsmen will be a representation of the different castes and will be seated in a particular order. The boats racing past each other with golden lace at the head and the ornamental umbrella at the centre make a terrific show.

On the Thiruvonam day, after an early bath, men and women wear traditional clothes. Women wear an off-white cotton saree or mundu(dhoti) with a woven gold border and a matching breast cloth, draped across a tight blouse in a contrasting colour. Men wear kasavu mundu and shirt. As is common to all festivals, sumptuous feast known as sadya is the catch of the celebration. The sadya displayed on a banana leaf is a slice of the exotic kerala itself. It consists of various delicious curries culminating in a range of sweet concoctions known as ‘Payasam’. After the meal, it’s time for sports and entertainment. While the men would engage in games like ‘Pulikali’ (dressed as tigers they sing songs and prance around to the beats of drums) and ‘Vadamvali’ (tug of war).
Women perform ‘Kaikottukali’ (a group dance int the traditional two-piece dhoti around the traditional brass lamp). Young girls enjoy themselves by swinging on the ‘Oonjal’ (swing) set up on tall branches of the ‘Pulimaram’ (Tamarind tree) or other tree branches.

Much of the socio-cultural activity of the state revolved around this festival. It had a profound influence on the art and literature of the state. This was a time no one could miss whether rich or poor. In fact there is a proverb saying one should not hesitate to sell his land in order to celebrate Onam well. Onam and its celebrations have stirred many a creative mind and enriched the literature of the land immensely. Songs sung on the occasion of onam known as ‘Onapattu’ have traveled by word of mouth over generations. By Smitha p kesavan, Khaleej times, September 6, 2003

No Nostalgia, Please….,
What stirs Malayalis (Keralites) to celebrate Onam wherever they are ?

The story of Mahabali’s great yaga and the gift of land he granted Vamana, which led to his being banished to the netherworld or patala is a familiar one. Each onam, when this great ruler is supposed to come up to the earth to meet his favourite subjects , this story is regurgitated in various forms. However, there is a less told story which narrates an incident that occurred after he had been in patala for a while. Eons had passed and mahavishnu had been incarnated many times over. He was now Sri Krishna and Kurukshetra war was over. The pandavas who were victorious had performed the appropriate yagas and were reigning over a peaceful and bounteous land. Sri Krishna felt that Yudhishtira was getting a little too smug in his goodness and decided to show him that there were other kings and emperors who were greater. He told Yudhishtira that Mahabali who one ruled over the same land still lived in patala and would be delighted to meet so worthy a successor.

Yudhishtira, Arjuna and Krishna set out and reached patala. Mahabali was delighted to see Krishna and his companions. Krishna introduces them. “this is Yudhishtira who rules over the kingdom you left behind. He defeated Kauravas in the name of dharma and now peace and plenty reign in the land. He has performed the Aswamedha and the Rajasuya. With him is his brother arjuna who has been his right hand in all these endeavours”.

Mahabali was impressed and once more welcomed his great successor. He told him how happy he was to hear that his land was under a great and noble king and that his people still enjoyed peace and prosperity. Krishna continued, “ besides all the yagas he has performed, he also gives a lot in charity. Everyday five hundred Brahmins are fed from his kitchens.”

Mahabali jerked upright, closed his eyes with his hand and shouted, “please take this tgerribel king away from my sight. Why did you bring such a sinner before me?” Krishna asked innocently, “But, I’m telling you of his great generosity and charity. Why do you call him a sinner? ”

“What else can I call a king who has five hundred Brahmins willing to accept charity every day ? they don’t have food at home or they wouldn’t come in search of charity. In my time, whenever I performed a yaga I had to plead with someone to come and eata at the yagasala so that I could complete the rituals. All had plenty in their own homes and didn’t need anyone’s charity. Take this terrible kind away whose people lack even food before I am forced to curse him.”

Krishna apologetically drew away his friends from the sight of the great mahabali even as he smiled quietly to himself. It goes without saying that yudhishtira and arjuna were rather silent on the way back. So what the king thought were good deeds and what was celebrated by the world as good deeds were actually a symptom of his bad rule. His people accepted charity because they needed it.

Onam usually brings up a severe attack of ‘those were the days’ how simple the pleasures were, what fun everyone had, how good the food was and what togetherness the family shared. Whenever people compare the old family onam with the modern instand onam I think of how blind nostalgia has made them. Do you remember what onam was like a few decades back? Before the readymade payasams and caterer’s onasadya were available? There were the floral decorations which started ten days before onam. And on onam day, the thrikkakaraappan had to be welcomed and placed in front of the house. The preparation of the spot involved cleaning the area, spreading it with cowdung, decorating it with rice paste. And once the deity was installed he had to be fed three times a day with delicacies like appam and ada. This for about a week.

Preparations for the onam feast would start days before. The women of the household hardly sleep for weeks on end. There are the plantains to be arranged for and then cut for frying. They have to be cut in two ways, the thicker pieces for the sarkarapuratti and the thinner ones for the banana chips. Then, the various pickles had to be prepared. The mango pickle and lime pickle and the one made of chillies, tamarind and jaggery. Even if there was plenty of help in the kitchen, pickles and the special dishes of the festival were the domain of the lady of the house. There was also the distribution of food on the days leading to and the days that came after the festival. The mundus or other pieces of the cloth to be distributed to various members of the family and the dependents had to be sorted out and given correctly. A mistake in the quality or quantity could mean months of resentment. The only redeeming feature was that there were plentry of women in the family, all of whom could be allotted different duties.

Imagine trying to do all that in the present unclear family. Usually, there is just one able –bodied woman in the household. Even the usual inexpert and inadequate domestic help is missing during festivals. While theoretically, the whole family is to do the work together, given exams and the exigencies of office and school, if anything is to be done at all, the woman of the house will have to do it on her own. Right from the purchase of the vegetables to the final serving on the plantain leaves which had to be bought from some special store or the other.

(Contd.on next Post)

Have Feet, Will Travel

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