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”).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.