Onam celebration

A big festival and holiday scheduled for 29 August had everyone excited and many people at the office planning vacations.

Onam is a popular harvest festival of Kerala, which honors the annual homecoming of a legendary king, Mahabali. Ten days of revelry, including carnivals, floral decorations, games and traditional banquets, mark the festival, which falls on the first month of the Malayalam calendar.

At our office celebration, everyone dressed in native apparel with most of the women wearing typical crème colored saris banded in gold, blue or green.

Activities included competitions, performances of the ‘thiruvathirakali’ dance form, ‘athapookalam’ (a customary arrangement of flower petals on the floor or ground) and someone in typical king attire (very authentic looking and colorful).

The King

The King

The pookalam reminds me of mandalas as the flower petals are arranged in circular patterns and designs using many colors. They are typically arranged in an entry way or outside near the door to a shop. They are meant as a welcome for the return of the king.

A pookalam competition was held with the winner displaying a beautiful design with a snake boat in the center. Offerings are also presented at the top of the design.

Winning pooklam

Winning pooklam

A tug of war was held and was very funny and enjoyable to watch. The judge was so intense! It took an amazing amount of time to get everything set up properly, with the exact center of the rope above the exact center of the ground; the teams standing at the precise locations, all under the scrutiny of the judge. Standing around in the beating sun and pressing heat for the few minutes it took for the ‘war’ to be won would have been exigent if not for the laughter and faces of the participants and those watching. After several ‘wars’ were waged, the winning team won bunches of bananas. One of our visiting colleagues from London commented that he would have an easier time as a manager if his UK team would get this excited over a bunch of bananas as a reward.

To the victors

To the victors

There was also a pin the tail on the donkey-type of game, where participants were blindfolded, spun in a circle and had to place a bindi on a poster of a person, as close to the ‘third eye’ as possible. That winner received a very large bag of dried bananas … are you seeing a theme here?

Following the dancing and competitions, we attended a celebratory lunch banquet with Kerala rice, sambar, a variety of curries and other great tasting food all served on a large banana leaf. No silverware was available, although they asked me and my UK colleague if we wanted some, but we said no … we want to go native. I always did like eating with my hands!

The entire day was fun-filled and entertaining, with work in between events. I’m leaving on Saturday night, so I’ll miss the actual day of Onam, but our work events gave me a slice of the celebratory flavor and excitement surrounding this popular Kerala holiday.


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