I've often wondered why India's population in the South needs ten days to participate in Onam in order for it to be effective. Is it because they need three times as many days to get three times as much luck? After all, the South of India seems to be on the low end of receiving the benevolence of the North of India. Well, according to legend - and again India apparently has dozens of them - the 2005 Onam celebration honored King Mahabali, the mythical ruler of Kerala. Don't ask me where is Kerala because I do not know! But Onam honored this guy and then proceeded to take the next ten days to celebrate and to assure him that all is well in Southern India.
The mystic origins of Onam take this very basic premise - honoring Mahabali, and the Hindus stretch it all over the place so it includes power and romance and intrigue and bunch of other stuff that you'd be better off reading about on-line. But let's jump ahead. The Onam festivities begin on day one when floral decorations are hung on the doors of every home. There is also a spectacular Onam procession that involves elephants and music and banners. At the end of the first day a massive fireworks display kicks off the beginning of Onam. And that's just the first day! If it sounds at all sedate you are wrong. Because while all this is going on the townsfolk are going nuts. And this isn't just in one town, it's everywhere! Elephants and fireworks in every major city in Southern India all to celebrate the 2005 Onam festival.
The thing I like most about India is that the days of the week aren't referred to like regular days. Like that don't celebrate greetings Onam by saying "On Monday we did such and such..." No, that would be too easy. The Hindu's honor each day with a name I can't pronounce like Thiruonam, Pookkalam, and Cheruthuruthy. I do not want to undermine the importance of these names. I only think it would be easier on the typical poor, tired traveler if they used the regular days of the week. You know, like 98% of the rest of the world.
But I digress. In order to convey Greetings Onam celebrations recount historical love stories inherit to Hindu legends. And this type of this chews up at least another day or so.
Hindu dancers do traditional dances for the public. We're talking dozens of dancers dressed up in veils and sequins and whatnot, dancing to sitars and drums. This is the same country that churns out dozens of films a month in Bollywood back lots. SO I'm sure this kind of spectacle is fantastic.
Another big element of Onam is a boat race. Why a boat race? I don't know, maybe because the sack race was over? But anyway, nearly one hundred oarsmen row traditional Hindu longboats while at the head of each a small man with a drum and a cymbal hammers out the rhythm. I believe this isn't so much a race as a traditional spins in the water.
And again, while the boats are zipping along the water, the onlookers are going slightly nuts on the sidelines. All this continues in the name of Onam and I'm sure like the Holi and Diwali festival, after a couple of days I doubt the locals even remember any more why they are partying so hard. But it feels good, it's a great moral builder and we should all be so lucky as to have 10 days off to celebrate.