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Home away from home during Onam

With Onam all set to be celebrated on September 11, NT BUZZ speaks to Malayalees living in Goa to find out how they celebrate it


Alos known as the New Year, Onam is a harvest festival celebrated to mark the homecoming of King Mahabali in Kerala. The 10-day long festival is celebrated with great fervour during the month of Chingam by people from different castes, religions, and race. And here in Goa, the Malayalees have kept this festival alive, by trying to keep up with the enthusiasm as it is celebrated in Kerala.

Nisha Nair has been in Goa for 15 years. However, because of her busy schedule, they only celebrate Onam for three days. Celebrations at her house begin a day before Onam where they go out to buy new clothes and vegetables that are required for the festival. The first thing she does on the day of the festival is make the flower rangoli known as ‘pookalam’. She then puts on traditional attire and invites her friends over.

With Onam also known for its grand food feasts, for breakfast she prepares eela adda which is similar to the Goan patoleo, but is made on banana leaves. This is followed by lunch which is called the ‘onam sadya’ that consists of 21 dishes, like sambar, avial, thoram, pulisherry, oolan and so on. She also prepares two types of paysam – a pal paysam made of milk and a pradaman paysam made of jaggery. “In Kerala there are more celebrations and everyday a ritual is performed, here we don’t perform rituals every day,” she says.

Reminiscing about her childhood days in Kerala, Nisha says: “These days, we buy flowers. But as a child in Kerala, my friends, relatives and I would go and gather flower petals to make the pookalam and thereafter sit with the entire family and enjoy the Onam lunch.”

She further adds that she looks forward to celebrate Onam when everyone comes together. “I am looking forward to getting friends together for lunch and serving them with the best dishes. I even give my friends the traditional saree called the Kasavu and celebrate Onam with them in a true Malayalee style,” says Nisha.

Sanjana Nair from Ribandar who has been brought up in Goa goes home to Kerala to celebrate Onam whenever she can. “I look forward to meeting my family, I miss that in Goa because all my relatives are in Kerala or abroad but during Onam everyone comes to our ancestral place and we are reunited,” says Sanjana.

And the feel in Kerala is different, she says. “The entire state is filled with excitement, you will see people dressed as Mahabali. You will also see a lot of functions and people dressed for the celebrations,” she says. When in Goa her family celebrates Onam, with less enthusiasm, the family keeps the function small.
“My mother prepares the Onam dishes and we get the banana leaves and make a pookalam. We also light the lamp and place the banana leaf where the puja takes place,” says Sanjana.

There are also 13 Malayalee associations in Goa that are under the Federation of All Goa Malayalee Association, which organise Onam programmes every Sunday after the Thiru Onam.

President, Federation of All Goa Malayalee Association, Vasu Nair says that all the pre-Onam rituals are kept for Sunday as people are free on that day. The association organises various cultural programmes during Onam. A thiruvathira, which is a traditional dance is performed during Onam celebrations here in Goa. Many other folk songs and dances are also performed by the members of the association. The association also organises a pookalam competition followed by the Onam sadya that is served on the banana leaves. “We bring special cooks from Kerala to cook the Onam sadya, because in Goa we don’t get the time to cook plus it’s difficult to cook for people on large scale,” says Vasu. Along with that, members of the association show up dressed in traditional Kerala attire. The women wear a Kasavu and men wear a dhoti, both of which are white in colour with a gold border.

During the festival at the association, some of the members also dress up as the King Mahabali along with an umbrella made of out of leaves. The association celebrates Onam for nearly a month and celebrations are held at different branches on different days.

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