Onam is celebrated for over 10 days and is essentially a harvest festival secular in essence, and is known for the myriad of activities held during the week.
According to the All Malaysia Malayalee Association (Amma) secretary general, Sreekala Nambiar, it is believed that during the last four days of Onam festival, the legendary Asura King Mahabali (Maveli) comes to visit his subjects.
“The preparation for Onam begins on Atham Nakshatram day in the Malayalam Chingam month (August to September). Atham falls around 10 days beforeThiruonam,” she added.
On Thiruonam day, members of the family gather at the ancestral home for Onasadya(traditional Onam feast) served on banana leaves.
The significance of the Onasadya is established from the popular Malayalam sayingkanam vittum onam unnanam (Onam feast should be prepared even if one has to sell all the seedlings that are kept to sow for the next harvest).
The number of vegetarian delicacies served during Onasadya today ranges between 16 and 24.
After the Onasadya, women and children engage in folk games, songs and dances likeOonjalattom (soaring high on the swing), and traditional folk dances includingThumbithullal Kaikottikkali and Thiruvathirakali.
Apart from these, there are traditional rural arts and games such as Pulikali,Kummatikali and Ona Thallu.
For Gracious Aloysius Fernandez, 47, who lived in Kerala for 15 years, memories of the celebrations there are still vivid.
He said since the story of King Mahabali surrounds a Hindu epic, the Muslims and Christians may not prepare the Onasadya or the Pookolam but they would visit the homes of Hindu friends and partake the meal.
“We will join in the festivities, which is celebrated on a large scale. The streets will be lit and there will be floats and residents would be out on the streets,” he added.
Onam is also a time for snake boat races (Vallam Kali) and there are numerous competitions including the famous Aranmula Vallam Kali.
Malayalees from the Marthoma and Jacobite churches here also conduct special masses on Thiruonam day.
Apart from participating in the events, Fernandez focuses on teaching the language and cultural values to his daughter Precious Fernandez, seven.
Fernandez, who is also Amma’s head of education portfolio said he personally believes the more languages one speaks the better one is.
He and his wife Sharon Fernandez who is a Punjabi, have started teaching Precious the basic languages including English, Bahasa Melayu and Cantonese and are looking forward to teaching the Indian languages as well.
“At Amma, we are also looking at teaching Malayalam to youths but we will take a different approach including camps and activities that include verbal conversation instead of just classroom lessons,” he added.
Just like the Christian community, the Malayalee Muslims or Malabaris as they are commonly known also try and participate during the Onam festival.
Amma vice president (one) Abdul Kadir Moidutty, who is also the president of the Malaysian Malabari Association said the community here is also quick to take part in the celebrations.
According to him, the community in India is quite steadfast in their participation and the culture is slowly catching up here as well.
“In India, we have seen the Malabari community assisting the Hindus and Christians to prepare the food in a gotong-royong style.
“Many misconstrue the entire celebration and associate it with a Hindu festival but it is essentially a harvest festival that everyone participates in,” he added.
The sentiments of Abdul Kadir was also voiced out by chairman of the Malaysian Malayalee Hindu Parishad, N. R. Nambiar who urged Malayalees to celebrate the festival together.
“Onam is supposed to be a day without evil thoughts or crime, the way it used to be celebrated during King Mahabali’s time.
“It is a time for everyone to become 1Malayalee,” he added.
Amma and its affliates will be organising various events this month. For information, log on to Amma’s official website at http://www.amma.org.my/.