Over a million Malayalis in the national capital brought Kerala alive in their homes and hearts as they celebrated the festival of Onam on Tuesday.
Homes were spruced up, heralding the new season and beautiful Pookalams (floral designs) made in the courtyards to celebrate the state's harvest festival. A traditional 27-course sadhya feast was also the highlight of the festival, preparations for which began days in advance in many homes. Three types of sweet payasam, a mixed vegetable avial, olan vegetable curry, papadums and sambar are just some of the sadya items served upon banana leaves.
Malayali cultural bodies and community associations in the city had begun the festivities a few days ago—holding elaborate traditional feasts, floral decorations and music concerts. The attempt was not just to bring together Keralites but also to showcase the culture of the state to non-Keralites.
On Onam it is widely believed that Kerala's mythological king Mahabali, known for his benevolence, comes to visit his people and ensure their well-being and prosperity.
The festival is celebrated by all Malayalis irrespective of religion—a reflection of the secular spirit of the southern Indian state. Though nuclear families living outside Kerala don't have much time to adhere to the traditional way of celebrations, the occasion nonetheless is one of joy for all.
"Onam has changed over the years but there is something unchanging about it and that is why we celebrate it year after year despite being away from Kerala. It celebrates the value of togetherness, which is essential to Kerala culture," said K Jayakumar, joint secretary of the ministry of culture.
"Without Onam, we would feel a sense of rootless-ness and we Malayalis are fortunate to have a festival that binds us together, irrespective of caste and religion," added Jayakumar, also a noted Malayalam poet.
Many south Indian-dominated areas in Delhi held cultural programmes to mark the occasion but the biggest celebration of them all was by the Delhi Malayali Association (DMA) at the Siri Fort Auditorium on Monday evening.
The three-hour function was inaugurated by Parliamentary Affair Minister PR Dasmunsi and Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs Vayalar Ravi. "It was a traditional mix of Mohiniattam, Thiruvathirakali (a traditional dance by women), Onam songs and Kathakali," Jimmy George, advisory board member of DMA said.
Archbishop of Delhi Vincent Concessao, Swami Agnivesh and Communist Party of India-Marxist leader Sitaram Yechury also graced the occasion.
The variety programme saw children from different parts of the city come together on the stage. It was attended by an audience of nearly 2,000 people.
Onam was celebrated in a grand way at the Kerala House in Delhi too. "We organised a sumptuous sadhya, besides a Pookalam competition. There was also a Mohiniattam performance and Thiruvathirakali held," said Ramesh Kumar, the deputy information and publications officer there. Kerala Home and Tourism Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan presided over the events on Monday.
A festival of traditional music, dance, drama and films organised by the government of Kerala in collaboration with its employees cultural and welfare Association will be also held from Sep 8-9 at the Travancore House.
The World Malayalee Council, a global community organisation that provides a common platform for Malayali expatriates, combined Onam with a social cause by spending time with patients at the leprosy centre run by the Missionaries of Charity in Dilshad Garden in New Delhi. Said Jimmy George, also the general secretary of the organisation: "We provided a traditional Onam sadhya to the 300 leprosy patients there and they really enjoyed the Kerala food."
The India Habitat Centre (IHC) in association with the South Zone Cultural Centre and Kerala Tourism, held a two-day festival that started on Saturday with Panchavadyam—a percussion ensemble from Kerala as well as Thiruvathirakali dance.
"We also had an artist from Kerala perform Arjuna Nrityam, which is a rare art form now, apart from a Mohiniattam recital by well-known dancer Jayaprabha Menon and Kathakali by Guru Sadanam Balakrishnan's troupe," said Renu Oberoi, programme coordinator of IHC.