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Memento to the Malayalee (Manipal and Onam – 2016)

Maveli Naadu vaanidum kaalam
Manushyarellarum onnu pole
Aamodathode vasikkum kaalam
Aapathangarku-mottilla thaanum

So goes the Onam song of Kerala, roughly speaking about the time when a king called Mahabali ruled over the regions of Kerala and there was unity and harmony among men who lived like brothers. There was joy and peace everywhere. The Keralite festival of Onam is shrouded by a myth that is elaborate in its conception but falls at the heart of what it means to be a Malayalee – there would be nowhere in the country where an idealist regime is fervently heralded by every extent of a community as a homogenous whole. According to legend, an avatar of Vishnu called Vamana overturns the utopian rule of Asura King Mahabali but his loyal subjects celebrate his homecoming from the gates of hell every year on the occasion of Thiruvonam. No better indicator of cultural unity exists than when the ladies dress up in traditional Kasavu sarees and the men in a two-fold dhoti or mundu, come together for a sumptuous feast as one, to eat from the leaf of a plantain and then get into a medley of music and games, in memory of their glorious days. Rightfully, there is also no epic in India where an Asura is vivified in reverence and an entire nation rejoices in his second coming, putting behind the class structure, tradition and differences to dissolve in the spirit of harmony just like there is no other place in where a communist government is elected into power through a democratic election process periodically.

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Courtesy: The Photography Club, Manipal

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Courtesy: The Photography Club, Manipal

The story of Onam is one of delicate tradition and to the average MIT-ian, the occasion revolves around the celebrations held at Kamath Circle on a yearly basis and this year, had to be rescheduled to an earlier week owing to the upcoming sessional exams. What marked the beginning of the evening was a freshman named Abhishek dressed up as Mahabali set to the sound of the reverberating drumbeat, called the shinkarimelam resembling the days where all tears ought to be wiped away as the people rejoiced with their king and the humdrum tone of the crowd was replaced with zest. Shortly afterward came a long session of arm wrestling for both genders and a tug of war match that was easily won by the wranglers of the Department of Commerce. Possibly the greatest attraction of the night was the traditional Kerala dance, Thiruvaathira performed in quite some elegance by the womenfolk dressed in the customary kasavusaree as girls from the neighboring states looked on in awe. Lighting a nilavilacku and dancing around it in synchronization with the mellow music, there was magnificence and grace at the same time. Later, grace gave way to the roaring sounds of regional bands like Aviyal, Thaikkudam Bridge and a melody of some modern songs which constituted the dance night that went on until the perm time extension expired.

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Courtesy: The Photography Club, Manipal

The Onasadhya went scheduled for a later Sunday, and it took place at the MIT Cafeteria. What transpired on Sunday involved a lot more than the student populace as the Malayalee faculty also came along to celebrate to the sound of the Onapattu and outsmarted the students in various competitions. There was fun, there was dancing and there was the sound of a yesterday when all the children of Mahabali came together to unite under the shadows in the rains of Karkidakam to leave behind every earthly order to herald the kingdom of heaven. Mahabali might not have been around, but it did appear as if he were.