Onam-Festival of 'flowers' become festival of 'fairs'

Onam-Festival of 'flowers' become festival of 'fairs'

But the festival has lost much of its original charm, beauty and grace with the celebrations turning market oriented.

As the run-up for 'Thiruvonam' on August 23 began days earlier, streets of cities and towns are crammed with festival purchasers with shops competing to sell a variety of goods, ranging from laptops to washing machines.

Apart from permanent shops,street vendors from other states have also come with readymade garments and plastic toys, mostly luring low-income buyers, turning the 'festival of flowers' into a ‘festival of fairs.’

'Onam is just a commercial fiesta now. It has lost its simplicity, beauty and traditional flavour. The celebrations have become a synonym for extravaganza,' said eminent poet Sugathakumari.

'The worst thing about Onam these days is consumption of alcohol has become has become accepted practice,'she told PTI.

'In the past Onam used to be a recollection of a legendary past when people lived in utmost happiness under Asura king Mahabali. But Malayalis are now least bothered to preserve the sanctity attached to commemoration of their egalitarian past. For them, it is just another occasion to purchase articles in bulk and get stuck before TV watching movies,' she said.

According to legend, the festival celebrates the return of king Mahabali to Kerala on ‘Thiruvonam’ day of the month of Chingam of the Malayalam calendar.

Mahabali’s rule was marked by prosperity and equality. The ‘Devas’ however became jealous and prevailed on Lord Vishnu to get rid of him. The Lord turned up before Mahabali in the form of a midget Vamana and sought three steps of land from the liberal king, who readily complied.

In the first two steps, Vamana measured the universe. The King bowed to allow the third step placed on his head and Vamana banished him to the netherworld. But just before going down, he obtained the Lord's permission to visit his subjects for one day every year.

To welcome their dear ruler, Malayalis decorate their homes with floral carpets from Atham day, 10 days before Thiruvonam.

If children used to run around and cull flowers in the past, they are now purchased from florists who bring large quantities from places like Thovala in Tamil Nadu or Gundalpet in Karnataka.

Traditional flowers like 'thumba' or 'kakkapuv' are hard to spot now due to large-scale degradation of nature, especially conversion of paddy fields into real estate properties.

The same is the case of vegetables and provisions required for the sumptuous feast ‘onam sadya’. Instead of locally grown vegetables and banana, people now rely almost entirely on vegetables transported from Tamil Nadu or Karnataka.

'Glorious Onam days have all gone. We can see those things only in old movies now.The new generation is not interested in decorating their front yards with ‘pookkalam’ or arranging ‘sadya’. It’s all ready-made now,' lamented octogenerian Parvathy Amma.

'My grandchildren cannot avoid hotel food even during Onam days,' she said.

Elders are also interested in having a feast from hotels as they do not wish to cook themselves. The whole family will be before televisions throughout the day,' she said.

But Gang, a government employee, says there is nothing wrong in the shopping spree or eating outside. 'What is wrong in going to hotels to have a feast? After all, it is a festival. It is an occasion to be happy and relaxed. Why should women spend such a holiday in kitchens?,' she asked.

To woo families and tourists, city hotels are offering a wide range of mouth-watering delicacies, including some non traditional dishes apart from the customary menu.

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