Onamotsav Day2 at the ECA

Onamotsav Day2 at the ECA

Day 2 of the Onamotsav was bright and beautiful. After the wonderful function of Day 1, Day2 began with the Pookkalam competitions, the sadhya and the Onaraagangal with the members participating with lots of enthusiasm, showcasing their musical talent.

kasavu saree of Kerala

Traditional dress of Kerala- the Kasavu

 

The sadhya is an elaborate meal prepared especially for Onam with nearly 32 items. The fried snacks include the salted banana chips which was something we always asked our colleague to get from Kerala. Served on plantain leaf, I was totally spoilt for choice with the number of pickles before me. I especially loved the Puli inghi (which is made using ginger and tamarind) and the naaranga achar (made of wild lime). After this the side dishes, rice, rasam and sambhar followed. I believe there is a certain order in serving these items. The best part was that every now and then, someone or the other would come along and ask us if we wanted a second helping of any item. I totally enjoyed the hospitality and loved the meal. Even the payasams were more than one! When I asked some members on their favourite part of Onamotsav, it was the sadhya and the cultural programmes organised by ECA. The kids off course loved the sadhya!

Sadhya on Onam

Sadhya the traditional meal of Onam

After the sadhya, it was the melodious Onaraagangal and then the Double Thayambaka by Cheruthazham Chandran, Chirakkal Nidheesh and Team. This was one energetic performance of over more than an hour! Mainly a templeart, it is also performed outside during festivals and any important milestones or functions. The main chenda performer improvises rhythmically on his team’s beats. In this case there were two main chenda artists, which is called the double thayambaka. It began with a slow pace, picked up the pace and ended with energetic frenzy. In fact the audience was so thrilled and immersed in the performance, I could feel the place pulsating with tremendous positive energy. Towards the end, one of the audiences was virtually playing the beats with the artists and their involvement was definitely a show in itself! After felicitating the artists, it was time for some selfies with them. Onamotsav was definitely an unexpected treat for me to see such talented artists come together for the show.

Double Thayambaka

Double Thayambaka by Cheruthazham Chandran, Chirakkal Nidheesh and Team

 

The deep tone of the Mizhavu by a promising artist from Kerala (with just the palm and fingers) stayed with me for a long time even after Onamotsav. Though traditionally always played as an accompaniment to Koothu or Koodiyattam, it is now also being performed solo. It is a big copper vessel covered at the mouth and placed on wooden platform specially made for it. Earlier clay pots were being used but were later replaced by copper. When I was reading more about this, I found it fascinating that it is regarded as Brahminic, and all the rituals followed for a Brahmin are followed for the Mizhavu, like the Upanayanam. When it can longer be used, it is cremated with ceremony!

Mizhavu artist at the Onamotsav

Mizhavu artist using the copper pot with his hands to create music

Mizhavu and Chakyarkoothu at the Onamotsav

Mizhavu and Chakyarkoothu – Performance at onamotsav

 

The Mizhavu was the accompaniment to the Chakyarkoothu by Kalamandalam Ramith Ramesh. The Chakyarkoothu is a form of monologue and a blend of humour, mime and satire. With sandalwood paste on his body with red dots and an unusual head gear, he resembled a jester. Usually based on epics and Puranas, he dons several roles and also gives commentary on the socio-political scene. It begins with an invocation, some dance movements and facial expressions, accompanied by the deep tone of the Mizhavu. The performance at ECA was based on a scene in Ramayana, involving Rama and Sugriva. He also used this opportunity to ridicule many in the audience. Where it is his job, everyone took it sportively, turning around to see who the butt of his joke was. Though I did not understand him completely, I think he even made fun of me as I was only looking through my camera! It was a very spontaneous performance along the lines of the stand-up comedy common today. Towards the end, he humbly apologized for having pulled everyone’s leg. It was an enjoyable evening but I couldn’t stay until the end.

Onaraagangal by members at the Onamotsav

Onaraagangal by members

After this I stayed for a few more minutes to see the introduction of the D4 Dance winner team of Ramzan Mohammed. Too bad I couldn’t stay for the whole programme. All the same, Iam happy I could be part of this beautiful celebration, even if it was for a short while.

 

I loved it ECA!

 

Lots of Twinkles to All of you.

Happy Navratri.

Anupama.

Pookkalam

Pookkalam

Pookkalam the flower carpet.

Pookkalam is what I like best,

The colours of mother earth and nature

The greens, reds, oranges and yellows

All so fresh and clear

I take my time and linger

In the garden and the yard

It is that time of the year

That is so dear…

Pookkalam designs at onamotsav ECA Bangalore

Pookkalam at onamotsav ECA Bangalore

 

 

According to the Malayalam calendar, Chingam is the month of Onam. The time of rains, harvest, boat race, fresh flowers, great food and the return of the great king Mahabali. And to welcome the dear king, the subjects decorate the front yards of their homes with the Pookkalam (also called Atthapookkalam), which is the flower carpet. Onam begins with the Hasta Nakshatra (star) and the last day is Thiruonam, which is the tenth day. When one of my friends posted pictures of Pookkalam with a base of mud, I was surprised. This was the first time that I had seen such an arrangement. I was under the impression that what we see in the cities with just the flower petals and leaves was how the pookkalam was done. This got me to check with friends from Kerala and find out the Pookkalam as in the yester years and also rural Kerala. And this was what I found out.

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In the earlier days, cow dung would be applied to the front yard to keep it clean and dust free (this was before the tiles). Its anti bacterial properties also acted as a dis-infectant. During Onam, before decorating the front yard, it would first be cleansed with cow dung. After identifying the place for the Pookkalam, which was usually near the sacred Tulsi, one layer of cow dung would be used as a base. After the base was prepared, cow dung was placed in a cylindrical form. Traditionally, the flowers and leaves to be used for decoration are also laid down according to the day. On the first day, tulsi and tumba flowers are placed in the centre. On the second day, which is the Chitra nakshatra, the flowers from the earlier day are replaced with tulsi, tumba and mukkuthi. Tulsi is not only a sacred plant, but its leaves have a sweet aroma. Only from the third day onwards, which is the Swathi nakshatra, red flower petals are used to decorate the arrangement in circles. With each day, the circles of flowers extend. Ixora (chethi), Shankhapushpa, marigold, globe amaranth (Vada Malli), crape jasmine, hibiscus, red pagoda flowers, mandaram are some of the flowers used in the decoration.

Pookkalam with a base in mud

Pookkalam with traditionally used flowers. Pic Credit- Ms. Rema Kumar

 

Pookkalam with a base in mud

Pookkalam with a base in mud. Pic Credit- Ms. Rema Kumar

 

On the fifth day, after removing the old flowers, the base is made with mud and water. The centre is elevated and this base is called ‘Pooppada’. After reinforcing it, cow dung is spread and a strong twig of the kavungu(arecanut) tree is used as a support for the plantain stem. This is used from the fifth day onwards. ‘Kuda’ is prepared using ‘eerkil’ which is nothing but a fresh stick from the coconut leaf. Red and yellow flowers are stringed onto this and the number of such arrangements increases every day. The flowers would be at their maximum on Uttaradam, the ninth day.

Pookkalam for Onamotsav at ECA

Pookkalam for Onamotsav at ECA

 

Pookkalam for Onamotsav at ECA

Pookkalam for Onamotsav at ECA

 

Pookkalam at ECA

Pookkalam at ECA

 

On the tenth day, the thiruonam, the arrangement is decorated with tumba leaves and paste of rice flour. Flowers are not used. Instead of flowers at the centre, Vishnu and Mahabali are represented in shapes made out of mud (clay idols) decorated with flowers on top. So this is how it is supposed to be done. But in this fast paced life, it becomes difficult to celebrate a festival in its original form. We adapt, realign and create new expressions for the old forms. With this we have the Pookkalam in its current avatar (I saw many Pookkalams at ECA Bangalore for the Onamotsav), which is just as dear to us as the old one. For it is made with just as much love and patience, as the old one. So let us celebrate the new and remember the old. To Pookkalam and all the joy it brings us.

Pookkalam

Pookkalam – Onam at ECA Bangalore

 

 

Lots of Twinkles to you.

Anupama.

Onamotsav

Onamotsav

We love to form bonds, especially when there’s someone from our own community, speaking our language, sharing our culture and memories, the bonds become stronger. I witnessed one such beautiful community program at Onamotsav, which is a celebration of a shared culture, of Kerala and Onam. Onam is a celebration of life, nature, the harvest season and the arrival of Mahabali the great ruler who ruled not only Kerala but the hearts of Keralites. Onamotsav a celebration at ECA Bangalore was all this and more. Though this was a ‘members-only’ program, I happily wangled an invitation as this was my golden opportunity to witness this beautiful culture, right here in Bangalore. And I couldn’t wait to share this evening with all my readers. But off course, the major portion was in Malayalam and I couldn’t understand a word. Though art is beyond language, there were some practical considerations and I hijacked my friend’s Saturday afternoon to understand the finer details, so I could share it all without any major goof-ups (“Thanks a lot Kavitha…I am eternally grateful to you”).

Kathakali Onamotsav

Dussansana Vadham- Onam celebrations, heralding.

 

Though the earlier day Indiranagar was practically washed off in the rains, the day of the Onamotsav celebration was bright and beautiful. I was welcomed with the majestic sounds of the Chendamelam. From the ancient times, Chenda melam has been traditionally used in Kerala for all the functions and festivities. The chenda which is the main instrument is accompanied by ilathalam and kombu. I was quite rooted to the entrance for the whole show and decided to move on only when the programs were about to begin. The guests were all resplendent in silks, kasavus, and children all excited. I off course made a beeline for the green room, as I didn’t want to bypass this opportunity to see the Kathakali artists getting ready for the show. They had already finished their face painting and for the first time I actually saw the experts helping the artists with their resplendent costumes. It is quite a laborious process and takes hours together to get ready. The makeup artists who had come from Kerala were very happy to find a ready helper in me (I was just helping them hold some stuff!!) I have always been fascinated with Kathakali (the artists recognised Yakshagana as a renowned art form when i showed them my blog) and I happily clicked away with lots of videos as well….and with just an hour for the function to begin, my camera battery gives up on me… Ughghgh!! After fixing this problem, I wanted to know when the Kathakali was scheduled. I find out that it is just a part of a full 35 minutes show which was the Heralding of Onam. And luckily for me, the person I ask is none other than the director and creator of the show, Dr. Devasia Kurian and no he is not a doctor but a technopreneur.

Chendamelam

Chendamelam

 

 

 

Onam is celebrated with Pookkalam (the flower carpet or arrangement) welcoming the great king Mahabali ( a demon king and the grandson of Bhaktha Prahlada) who ruled Kerala, but was destroyed by Vishnu who came in the form of a young Brahmin boy (also a dwarf). This form of Vishnu was the Vaman avtaar and Trikkakara temple near Kochi plays an important role here. It is the only temple worshipping the Vaman avatar of Vishnu and in the heralding Dr. Kurian has recreated this famous temple. Before the temple doors open, the melodious notes of ‘Sopana sangeetham’ greet the audience. This is a beautiful blend of tribal, classical and folk and is sung by the steps (sopanam) of the sanctum sanctorium. It was so melodious, I was totally moved. I saw and experienced more of Kerala at Onamotsav than I would have seen in Kerala. 

Bhima and Draupadi

Bhima and Draupadi- from Dussasana Vadham Kathakali

 

This Onam, Lord Vishnu regrets that He had been unfair in destroying the great king Mahabali. Instead of following his mandate He had been influenced by the Gods and their insecurities. Lord Vishnu appears before the archak (the priest) and voices his regret and wants to meet Mahabali. The story of Mahabali is recounted, where a young Brahmin boy asks the king Mahabali for land measuring three footsteps for meditation. When Mahabali agrees, Vishnu takes his infinite form and covers the earth in one, the heavens in another and asks Mahabali about the third. Mahabali, never to go back on his promise, offers his head and thus meets his end. But as a last wish, he is permitted to come every year during Onam to visit his people and see to their welfare. Dr. Devasia Kurian takes the audience through Trikkakara temple, the Devloka with Lord Indra and Narada (Lord Indra’s abode), Mahabali’s court and Vaikuntha, the abode of Vishnu. In the present, Vishnu along with the priest goes to meet Mahabali who has come to visit his people in Kerala.

Kathakali- Dussasana Vadham

Bhima and Dussasana in combat on the 17th day of Kurukshetra war

 

And this is how I am also introduced to the rich art and culture of Kerala. Right from Panchavadyam, Kavadi and Mohiniyattam, Vishnu and me, enjoy a small scene of ‘Dussasana Vadham’ in Kathakali from the epic Mahabharatha. On the 17th day of the Kurukshetra war, Bhima (one of the five Pandavas) is in combat with Dussasana (the bad guy) and defeats him. As promised to his wife Draupadi, he tears open Dussasana’s chest and drinks his blood. He brings some to her to bathe her hair in and finally tie her hair after the retribution for her insult, in the courts of Hastinapura. (As I had spent the larger part of the evening in the green room, I got speaking to the artists who performed Kathakali and learnt that they were all members and in fact the whole function on the 9th was conceptualized, created and performed by members. Wow!) The resplendent Theyyam -a ritual folk temple art, The Komaram, Kalaripayattu (the martial art of Kerala), Vallam kali –the traditional boat race, the pulikali which is the tiger dance are all showcased as Mahabali meets Vishnu. When Vishnu acknowledges his regret for destroying Mahabali, the great king offers his understanding and tells Vishnu that he did only that which he was supposed to do. Together they enjoy the festivities and splendor of Kerala, with a family celebrating Onam along with all their friends and neighbours, where religion does not define or limit their joy. A wonderful performance by each and every artist, the whole show of Onamotsav was a stupendous success.

Onamotsav Heralding

Onamotsav heralding at ECA Bangalore.

 

After the heralding, the festivities continued with bollywood dances, the Jimikki kammal, Thiruvathirakali (folk dance by the ladies around a lighted lamp) and many others, winding up only at 11 in the night. And with that, I have exceeded the number of words…so the festivities of the next day at Onamotsav will have to be continued in my next post.

 

Lots of Twinkles to all of you.

Love your day.

Anupama