Floods wash away Onam, Bakrid spirit in Kerala

Flood-affected people receive free medicines inside a college, which has been converted into a temporary relief camp, in Aluva. Reuters photo

With over 10 lakh people still in relief camps in Kerala, their homes devastated by the savage monsoon that has claimed 223 lives since August 8, 'Onam' and Bakrid are going to be a subdued affair this year in the state.

While 'Onam' falls on August 25, Bakrid is being observed in the southern state on Wednesday. Considered the state's harvest festival, 'Onam' falls at the beginning of Chingam, the first month of Malayalam Calendar and is celebrated with joy and enthusiasm all over the state by people across communities.

Elaborate feasts, folk songs, elegant dances and energetic games mark the annual festival. But this time, many families have decided against any festivities. Sixty-two-year-old Sister Christabelle, former Principal of St Teresa's College in Kochi, said there will be no Onam celebration for the regular and retired staff this year and the money will be used for relief works for flood victims. Mariamma Varghese, President of the Elders Forum in Panampilly Nagar in Kochi, said Onam celebrations have been cancelled due to floods.

Onam commemorates the return of a mythical, righteous king, Mahabali and brings together communities across the state in unified revelry probably unheard of in any other part of the country or outside. Elaborate, sumptuous feasts of 'Onam Sadya,' with at least 10-15 side dishes, are served in houses, with the feast ending with delicious payasam (Kerala dessert), which ensures that the message of oneness and hope is spread far and wide.

Due to floods, there have been several cancellations for 'Onamsadya' as well. Caterers have said there have been heavy cancellations from various offices and organisations, which have decided to do away with any celebrations.

The state government has also cancelled Onam celebrations. The Kerala Tourism's decision to organise Champions Boat League on the lines of Indian Premier League (IPL) from this year starting with Nehru Trophy boat race also took a beating due to the flooding.

Pulikali (Tiger Dance), among the folk art forms of Kerala, which is held in Thrissur with artisans donning tiger masks and sporting the painted stripes of the big cat and dancing to the rhythm of traditional percussion instruments on August 28 is also likely to be cancelled. Expressing her dismay over the unexpected cancellation of Onam celebration in the state, Juli, a German tourist told PTI: "I was waiting to see the Onam festivities about which I have heard a lot. But, I am saddened by the turn of events due to floods. I am cutting short my Kerala trip and moving to Goa."

The Cochin Port Trust said its employees have contributed Rs 65,000, which they had collected for their Onam celebrations, for the relief work. Meanwhile, many muslims in the state have also decided to keep Bakrid celebration a low key affair this year in the backdrop of the sufferings of the people in the flood-hit state.

According to C Rahim, a senior journalist with a Gulf-based newspaper, the Muslim community has not yet recovered from the shock of the floods to celebrate any festival. "Houses of many of the people where the community lives in large numbers in Thrissur, Kozhikode and Malappuram districts are still under water.

Many of them have not gone back to their homes," he told PTI. People who have gone for Haj are also much worried about the relatives at home, he said. This year, the murderous monsoon has left the state's economy in shambles, many are penniless and the people of the state are in no mood to celebrate.

Ammini, a 55-year-old in a relief camp, said she and her family had to rush out with only the clothes they wore 'Everything is lost. We do not have anything left. There is nothing to look forward to." "My son is bedridden. I do not know where to go from the camp with my son, daughter-in-law and their child as there is no home left," she said. "We do not know how to take our life forward. Onam is not now in our minds...," she said unable to hold back tears.

After Nipah, the Ramzan sales were affected in Malabar (north Kerala) areas. Now with unprecedented floods, there are no sales at all in the region. In the normal course, during Onam and Bakrid there is a good sale in the state, a small trader in Kozhikode said.

In Kozhikode, a group of policemen have come together and prepared 1000 kits of essential items like sugar, pulses, rice etc to be distributed to the neediest who return home from camps. "Over 90 per cent people have gone back from camps in the district to their homes. There are many people who are in a very bad state and so it was decided to distribute kits to them as the festivals are just around the corner even though there may be no celebrations," a police official said. 

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Floods wash away Onam, Bakrid spirit in Kerala

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