The definitive guide to South Asian lingo

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Phrase. August 29, 2012, Word of the Day


Onam is the harvest festival of Kerala. Its one of just 2 or 3 of it's major festivals, & like many things about Kerala, it transcends religion. Onam is celebrated to mark the return of King Mahabali (or Maveli), a benevolent & wise Asura king who ruled over Kerala.

Under his able leadership, Kerala was a prosperous, peaceful & beautiful place. Jealous of his success & insecure of his growing powers, the Gods sent Lord Vishnu down to earth in the form of Vamana to vanquish Mahabali.

And so he did.

However, Vamana also saw how well Mahabali had administered his kingdom & the real love that he had for his people..this earned him his respect, hence he granted him a boon before he killed him. The good king Mahabali only asked that he be allowed to visit his beautiful & prosperous kingdom once a year to ask after the well-being of his beloved subjects. It was granted immediately.

So on Onam, Malayalis all over the world prepare to welcome their much loved king back for a day, & do all they can to show him how well they're doing. Mosques, temples & churches - they all commemorate Onam in their own unique ways. Every household that has some space in front will have a beautiful 'Pookkalam' design at the threshold. (Pookkalam is Rangoli designed out of fresh & colorful flowers). I have fond memories of my grandmother sitting in the enormous front room of our ancestral home surrounded by all her children, their spouses, grand children, household help - & distributing new clothes to all. The annual Onam boat races called the VallamKali (it happens only in Kerala) mustinshould be witnessed at least once in one's lifetime.

And then comes: *with a clash of cymbals & the beating of temple drums* THE SADYA!! Served on a banana leaf, a sadya is gastronomical paradise..15-25 (these days it's much less) different vegetarian curries served with rice, pappadams, pickles, relishes, sweets, chips..phew! I'll change my name if you're able to stay awake after lunch!

That's Onam.

And 'Happy Onam!!' would be how you greet someone who's celebrating it.

Do it NOW! You might get invited for lunch!!

(FYI, it falls on the 9th of September this year)


Nikhil: Hey Priya, Happy Onam!
Priya: thanks! Ona sadya is on at my place today from 12.30pm onwards. My address is #18, Sampige Road, Malleshwaram. Come okay!
(See, I told you! It's instant!)
Added 2011-09-03 by poori