The immediate road before my house is the most crowded one compared to any nearby. Today it is desserted. The rains have washed the roads & the breeze is cold against my face. Till yesterday the place that seemed cream, gold & colours suddenly looks stripped of all the gaiety.
There is a time for everything, for the flowers to bloom, the monsoons to start, the autumn leaves to shed…
…for the harvest season, the blossoming of flowers, the tiny hands plucking them, the making of floral carpets, the boat races, the puli kali, the arrival of Mahabali.
Onam has always amazed me for one thing mainly. Even the weather, trees & plants, the earth & sky, the sun & the stars seem to prepare to welcome the festival. The roads get washed, the trees & plants dress up & adorn themselves with beautiful, fresh flowers, the skies have the clouds and yet, the sun smiles down at the preparations.
It is not a religious festival. It is the state festival & that changes the way the state looks. It indeed gets transformed to ‘God’s own country’.
As a child I used to love making the floral carpet (pookalam) & there is supposedly a pattern for it. Onam is for 10 days in the Malayalam month of Chingam. The first day of it – Atham – is the day we start with the Pookalam or ‘Athakkalam’. This day, a mix of ‘Thumba’ & ‘Mukkuti’ flowers are used for the pookalam. The next day, the design is of two concentric circles with any flowers. With each day the number of concentric circles increases. On ‘moolam’- seventh day, squares replace the circles. The next two days’ designs continue with the circles. On the last day, the ‘Onathappan’ is placed at the centre of the Pookalam, depicting the legendary King Mahabali.
I used to take a beautiful steel basket & go out early in the morning in search of flowers for the Pookalam. A week before Atham I’d have noted the spots where Mukkutti & Thumba grew since they were the important ones ;). First I’d go there and pluck sufficient number of those and then proceed to others. All my neighbours used to let me have the flowers in their garden. If I couldn’t reach, they used to pluck some for me. The washed trees, the cool breeze, the wet ground and the droplet adorned leaves & flowers give an elated feeling, an excitement and happiness that only come with Onam.
After a round through the neighbourhood, I get back home with the basket full of colours & fragrance & start arranging them. Soon there is a simple & sweet Pookalam at our doorstep.
A visit to the temple, the sumptuous feast on banana leaf, the delicacy –Payasam – all follow the Pookalam. Groups of friends & family meet and celebrate the festival in different ways. The ‘pulikali’, boat race, playing in the swing, ‘Vadam vali’ or tug-of-war, ‘Onappaatu’ or the Onam songs, ‘Thiruvathira kali’ – the dance, ‘Uri adi’ or breaking the pot and so on.
The games, activities and the gaiety, cream & gold dresses, coloured flowers, the holy lamp & the happiness turns earth into heaven. The unity & happiness that existed during King Mahabali’s rule return every year during Onam. Maybe so they say he returns to visit his subjects that day of the year.