KOCHI: As the official state festival of Kerala, Onam binds Malayalis across the world. Pookalam uploads and kasavu saris adorning photo stories on social media from every nook of the globe prove that staying away from home in no way dampens the cheer. But how has this quintessentially Malayali festival of harvest blended into the diverse cultural fabric of Kochi? Express speaks to a few communities in the city to learn how they celebrate Onam.
Gujaratis who form one of the largest and oldest non-Malayali communities to settle in Kochi with numbers running into a little over 10,000 celebrate Onam by partaking in the traditional sadya. “The best part of Onam is the sadya. We either visit our Malayali friends or get a takeaway from restaurants to have a special meal together with family. There is no get-together by the cultural association per se but the Gujarati Mahila Mandals observe the occasion in a small way by organising pookalam competitions,” says Jayant Pathadia, a prominent member of the Gujarati association.
The linguistically-distinct Konkan community has long assimilated itself into Kerala’s culture. Interestingly the Konkani ceremony of Upakarma observed by Brahmins which involves the annual ritual changing of janeu or the sacred thread in the month of Sravana also falls during the Onam week. “Malayalis call Upakarma, Konkani Onam. Most years, it falls on the day of Sravana pournami which also marks Onam. The ritual is celebrated with a vegetarian feast like the sadya,” says Rajan Prabhu, vice-president of Kerala Konkani Cultural Fort.
The Telugu-speaking Kochiites which comprise a small portion of the city’s population seem to observe Kerala’s state festival at a more personal level. “The association is busy preparing for Dussehra festivities so Onam is mostly celebrated by families. Many Telugu speakers visit the Thrikkakara Temple on Thiruvonam as it is considered auspicious to do so. I have encountered many daily wage workers from Andhra who go to the temple to savour the onasadya there,” notes Harihara Naidu, president of Andhra Cultural Association.
The Jain community in Mattancherry which is currently observing the holy four-month period of Chaturmas, which is ordained as the time for penance and austerity, will stay away from buoyant Onam celebrations this year. “However, as we are a predominantly business community, most establishments will be decked with pookalam and decorations. A few big traders in Mattancherry come together to organise a sadya lunch for their employees,” said Dharmesh Nagda, member of the trust board of the Jain Temple in Fort Kochi.
The Bengali association is organising a pre-Onam gala at their community hall in Gandhi Nagar on September 8. “We have sent out invites to all our members reagarding the function which will be marked with a pookalam competition and the traditional sadya feast. The attendees have been asked to come dressed in kasavu sari and mundu. The programme will commece at 9.30 am,” said Abhinava Das, president