With only ten days left for Thiruvonam, Kerala’s annual harvest festival, Malayalee expatriates in the UAE have already kick-started celebrations to welcome the return of mythical king ‘Mahabali’. Onam is a major harvest festival celebrated by Malayalees across various religious groups.
While grand-scale celebrations are organised across the South Indian state, Kerala expatriates in UAE leave no stone unturned to ensure rituals and festivities are followed authentically. Take Dubai resident Namita Ajit, for example.
Namita and her children - Sameeksha, Atthreya, and Saatwika - headed to Sustainability City over the weekend for early Onam celebrations. “Atham is officially the first day of Onam. Swings, flowers, and traditional attire are important aspects of Onam celebrations.
"The last time we went to Sustainability City, we found peacocks there and decided to return there to give a very traditional and rustic feel to our celebrations,” Namita told Khaleej Times.
“It’s like a farm - there are a lot of hens, donkeys, and other domestic animals. My kids love being in such environments, reminding us of celebrations back home in Kerala. For Thiruvonam, however, we plan on making a feast at home. We will invite close friends and family members for our celebrations,” he added. Since Onam falls on a Thursday, families, plan on celebrating on Saturday or Saturday.
Flowers form an integral part of Onam celebrations as families adorn the entrances of their homes with intricately designed floral carpets called Athapookalam.
Sudalaimuthu Perumal, the owner of Perumal Flower Stores, said, “While we have a lot of demand and sales for flowers for Ganesh Chaturti, we haven’t had those many for Atham. Most expatriates work on Tuesdays and would not have grand celebrations.” With several branches across the Emirates, Perumal Flower Stores are a central retail outlet that supplies flowers during Hindu religious festivals.
However, for Thiruvonam, Perumal has arranged a whopping 30 tonnes of flowers to be imported into the UAE. “Over the last two to three years, we’ve had several supply chain disruptions due to Covid-19. During that time, we only imported 16 to a maximum of 20 tonnes of flowers. There were several shortages as well. Moreover, celebrations were muted due to the pandemic.”
However, festivities are expected to be grand in the UAE this year. “We expect bigger celebrations this year as things have returned to normal. I’ve already started receiving enquiries for flowers,” Perumal said. Most of the flowers are imported from Tamil Nadu, Bangalore, Hosur, Kochi, Coimbatore, and other South Indian states. “The Onam rush for flowers is expected to begin two days before Thiruvonam,” he added.
Onam symbolises demon king Mahabali’s homecoming and is one of the biggest festivals in Kerala and is celebrated throughout the state.
King Mahabali, according to mythology, conquered the gods and started to rule over the three worlds. Mahabali was a benevolent ruler despite being a demon king, and his subjects lived a peaceful and prosperous life, which made the gods insecure. They, in turn, pleaded with the Hindu deity Lord Vishnu to step in to help them.
Vishnu incarnated as Vamana and tricked Mahabali into submitting all the land he had on Earth. However, pleased by King Mahabali’s devotion despite losing all his land, Vishnu granted the king a boon. He allowed Mahabali to return to the kingdom and his people once a year, and Kerala celebrates Onam to mark king Mahabali’s return every year.
The festival is held for ten days, beginning on August 30 and ending on September 8. According to the Malayalam calendar, Onam is marked on the day of Thiruvonam Nakshatram in the month of Chingam,
Today (Tuesday, August 30) is Atham, which marks the start of the 10-day countdown to Thiruvonam.
Day 1 - Onam celebration starts with Atham. On this day, those celebrating decorate their homes with yellow flower arrangements known as Pokkalam.
Day 2 - Chithira is the second day of the festival, where people clean their entire houses ahead of the festival. Another layer of flowers is added to the Pookalam.
Day 3 - Onam’s third day, Chodi, is celebrated by meeting family members and exchanging gifts. People exchange gifts such as Onakodi (traditional attire) and jewellery.
Day 4 - The fourth day, Vishakam, marks the preparation of Onam Sadhya, the Onam feast.
Day 5 - On the 5th day, or Anizham, the Vallamkali boat race (snake boat race) is conducted from the town of Aranmula on the Pamba river banks in Pathanamthitta.
Day 6 - Families return to their ancestral homes to exchange more gifts and offer prayers on Thriketta - the sixth day of Onam.
Day 7 - Temples start offering special sadhyas (feasts) for the people on the day of Moolam. Moreover, other celebrations of dance and music, like the Puli Kali or Kaduva Kali, begin.
Day 8 - The 8th day of Pooradam holds importance in festivities as the idols of Vamana and King Mahabali is made out of clay and placed in the centre of Pokkalam.
Day 9 - The festivities begin on a massive scale on the day of Uthradom. People start preparation for traditional meals with fruits and vegetables.
Day 10 - On Thiruvonam, or the 10th day of the festival, it is believed the spirit of legendary King Mahabali visits Kerala. The festivities start in the early morning. An Onam Sadhya, or feast, is also prepared and served.
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