The haunting melody of evergreen folk songs juxtaposed against blaring, flashy ‘Onam sale’ advertisements; the natural grace of the traditional pookalam contrasting with the bindingly colourful festival lights; the fierce dancers of the pulikali vying for attention with new movie releases – God’s own country celebrates Onam with a panache that is both modern and traditional.
With the 10-day annual shopping and sadya frenzy well underway and the Onam festivities building up to a crescendo, it is time for us to take stock. What is the significance that Onam holds in today’s world? Are the new and the old in conflict? Do the raucous sales and flashing lights of modern day Onam festivities overshadow the gentle rhythm of the old style celebrations? Are our youngsters alienated from the cultural ethos of this harvest festival?
Philosophically Onam represents renewal of life and relationships. The bountiful harvest brings with it the hope for the future. The grand welcome accorded to Mahabali in every home represents the untiring effort to keep relationships eternally alive. Kerala’s Onam celebrations may have evolved over the years with a newer glitzier style in keeping with a more aspirational and ambitious world. But behind the glitz, the spirit of the festival remains unchanged.
As it has been down the ages, Onam remains a time for families to come together and weave a tapestry of unforgettable experiences that include singing, dancing, feasting, giving, taking and merry making. The beats of the music may have changed from folk to pop, but the lyrics still tell the story of love and relationships. The rhythm of the dances may be more modern, but the performers still express a tale of finding happiness and joy in togetherness. The colours of the pookalam compete with the blaze of the fairy lights, but both teach us the wisdom of looking ahead with optimism.
Yes, Onam has changed; but most importantly, its message, spirit and significance remain unchanged. It will forever remain a time when families bond together to renew relationships and optimism pervades our soul.
I take this opportunity to wish our Governing Council members, our Scientific Advisory Council members, all our colleagues at the Department of Biotechnology as well all my colleagues and students at RGCB a most wonderful and prosperous onam.