Onam is the time to uncomplicate life, winding down from everyday drudgery and more surprisingly a time for awakening our sensory connection with the marvels of the universe we inhabit.
All decked up for 'Thiruvonam', it is the grand finale to the ten-day revelry, with the biggest 'pookkalam' and the best feast in the season.
The best part of culture is that it adapts, and our onam is way different from that our grans had. If you ever cared to ask, then your gran would tell you how, for them, the once-in-a-bluemoon 'sadya' would have been the focus of the day. She would tell you how the entire clan would be eagerly waiting for the 'Onakodi'.
“And early morning” Gran would go on, “we went out to the yards, to the river banks and into the neighbors homestead looking for flowers.” Well, we don't do this anymore, we have no time, neither any gardens, instead we buy flowers, and hey, what is so special about it?
Well, there is something, other than simply being branded the loathful consumerist that Kerala has become and the tremendous amount of poison we surround ourselves with in the form of food and flowers.
So this was Gran's Onam
Onam is the time to count our blessings, even the ones we have been giving up for reasons of convenience.
Gran had more to say, “ traditionally, the pookalam is made with one color on the first day, 'Atham', then it cumulatively adds up to ten on the tenth day, Thiruvonam.”
According to her the first day is mostly white, from the humble, delicate 'thumba' flower. The other colors would be added in slowly with each passing day. The red would come from the 'krishnamudi' and 'chembarathi' (hibiscus), the green from 'mathilpacha', the violets from 'kaakkapoo' and 'sankhupushpam'.
Then there would be 'thetchipoo' for orange and flaming red, 'mandaram' and 'nanthyarvattom' for white and 'mukkutti' for yellow.
At those places where the top soil has not been ravaged into losing the last bits of its indigenous plant base, we may still spot these tiny mascots of our wellbeing and culture.
We are still die-hard Malayalis, no matter what
One good thing is that asMalayalis, we still eat the sadya and make a pookkalam. The older crowd like Gran may also visit their favorite local deities that morning. Well, the 'Onam enlightenment' being shared here happened in a temple, when a single little flower trumped the way festivals were understood.
Gaze stood sealed on the granite God in the sanctum as the slanting morning sun washed his feet in gold. The priest came out with the typical 'prasadam'. The 'dakshina' was given and the plantain tear opened.
There was sandalwood paste, jaggery from the god's kitchen and yo, there were a couple of 'nandhyarvattom' flowers, pristine white!
Guess what, thats when God came in, first time ever, there was godliness in the tiny square centimeters of a cupped palm. The lamps burning ghee, the morning sun, the silence, rustle of the old peepal and then, the heavenly fragrance- yes, the fragrance of a flower.
Suddenly it struck, so the five senses that the temple visit is supposed to enliven has finally woken up. The prasadam has them all and more. It is this 'reconnection' with our own sensory understanding that should make us better people. One should feel what one sees, sense the smell and taste of it- awaken the sense of entirety, the feeling of an all-encompassing Godliness, in everything around us.
Next time during Onam, try to cut the flab, get to the basics, it is finally all about a 'pookkalam' with colors, effort, fragrances of the wildest nature and ingenuity. Sit and reflect, celebrate our nature and culture, get to the roots, don't just watch from above, immerse yourself into it. When your senses connect, the world becomes a beautiful place, and joy in the smaller things in life begins.