Onam being a season for rekindling brotherhood and bonhomie between different communities, it was perhaps in the order of things that I was invited to a vallasadhya, the feast for the oarsmen of the snake boat belonging to our kara or area, hosted by our Hindu neighbour.
This is traditionally prior to the Uthirattadhi Vallamkali, the legendary Aranmula snake boat race, which is the biggest celebration in the region, marking an end to the Onam festivities. Being in the company of friends and people from my neighbourhood, I looked forward to an enjoyable and eventful day.
The oarsmen were ceremonially received at the temple kadavu, which is the entry into the temple from the river, and escorted through a long flight of steps by the hosts and other guests. After the ritualistic perambulations and paying obeisance to the deity, they are led into the venue of the vallasadhya.
With their oars by their side, the oarsmen sing the vanchipat or boat song typical to the Aranmula Vallamkali in full-throated unison. It is said that the number of items served on the banana leaf range from 40 to 60 or more, according to the demands made by the oarsmen. They are never denied anything they ask for, as it is believed that the deity is asking through them.
When the host saw me standing, he insisted that I join the oarsmen, despite my protests. It was great fun seeing the demands being put forward by the rowers in chorus to the tune of the vanchipat, and the servers taking their wishes as commands as the Sadhya progressed.
The Aranmula Vallamkali is unique because irrespective of caste or religion, every spirited youngster who is interested, takes part with full ehthusiasm and vigour. I recognised some of our Christian brothers, all dressed to the hilt in traditional attire complete with sandalwood paste smeared on their forehead and chest.
Historically, there has been close co-operation between the two major communities in the area, the Hindus and Christians, who have forged a watertight relationship without any room for rancour. Let alone communal discords, the two communities live in such close harmony with each other that it brings to mind the words of David in the Bible psalms, ‘How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity’. Indeed, where is the need for strife when people can live so happily in unity? On this auspicious day, I pray that that this spirit of unity spreads throughout our great and diverse nation.