KOCHI: Seby CT has been dressing up as Mahabali since 2010. Since then, he has assumed the role every year ushering in festivities at private functions, greeting people at malls and taking photographs with excited kids. Seby, who started donning the role on the insistence of a friend, says it gives him immense happiness. “I began dressing up as King Mahabali because I am a plump person and my friend said I would be perfect for the role. I guess you can call me a professional Maveli dresser. The charges for making an appearance vary. Before Atham, a three-hour engagement would be charged Rs 2,000 but as the festival draws close the fee goes up to Rs 3,500,” adds the 45-year-old who runs a garment shop otherwise. On a busy day, he attends as many as three events.
The custom of dressing up as Mahabali is fairly recent, says historian Venugopal V N. “It’s a trend which is not more than 60 years old. Kerala government also encouraged the practice, it was done to promote Onam as a state festival and to bolster tourism.” Notwithstanding the history, costume shop owners have observed a marked increase in the number of Maveli dressers over the past few years. “A decade ago, hardly 20 costumes would be rented out during Onam but the trend has picked up in the last seven-eight years. Schools, colleges, hospitals, clubs and corporate firms are demanding costumes for celebrations at workplaces and organisations. Last year, the flood put a huge damper on the festivities. Not even a single set was leased and pre-booked orders were cancelled but the fervour seems to be at an all-time high this Onam. We rented out more than 150 sets on just September 4 and 5 as most institutions held Onam celebrations on those two days,” says Shaji K A, who owns A-1 Dance and Drama Costume shop, a 60-year-old establishment located in three spots in the city.
Sajeer K S of Ali Sons Dance N Craft is a happy man. He has given out more than 250 costumes until September 9 and orders are pouring in even a day before Onam. “We have done the most business this season as compared to the last three years. We were almost running out of costumes and had to stock up on new ones,” says Sajeer.
The complete set of Mahabali costume comes with footwear, satin dhoti, a decorated breastplate, ornaments, the crown and olakkuda (umbrella made of palm leaves). These sets come in different ranges and are priced anywhere between Rs 500 and Rs 3,000 depending on the workmanship and quality. “The starting lease cost at our shop is Rs 650 and goes up to Rs 2,500. Most people prefer the costume set in the range of Rs 1,000 and Rs 1,500. We lease it for 24 hours,” adds Shaji.