After a day full of activities yesterday, today was a day of rest for the padayatris of Hope. The day also marked the festival of Onam, a traditional custom of yore, which continues to be celebrated in Kerala to this day.The day is celebrated with joyous fervor and marks the remembrance of King Bali, who was considered an ideal ruler. It also marks reverence to Vamana—considered a re-incarnation of Vishnu. The festival is unique because all communities celebrate it – be it Muslims, Hindus, Christians or Jews.
The padayatris came together and prepared a lavish sadya lunch. Procuring materials had taken many days and the preparations started the previous night. With only a few hours of rest, the cooks were at it again from 3.00 am and toiling well into the day till 11.00 am in the morning. In the end, the yatris had a full sadya meal ready. Onam Sadya is a vegetarian feast with a minimum of 20 items consisting of traditional Kerala cuisine served on a plantain leaf.
Sri M joined the walkers at 11.30 am and joined the festivities. Malayalis - there are many of them here - started the celebration with the ‘boat-song’. Sri M addressed the padayatris briefly and thereafter everyone had lunch. After lunch, the yatris went about their routines and rested for the day.
Sri M’s address:
“I thought we were just going to celebrate Onam. At least one day I thought I would not have to talk. So Tara explained to you what Onam is. Onam is Mahabali coming back from Paatala to inspect his kingdom, to see if everything is in order. You know how Mahabali went to this world.”
“Vamana’s story as narrated in the Bhagavat, is his coming as a dwarf Brahmin with an umbrella and saying,‘I want…. ‘So Mahabali, being a very generous man, said - Take what you want. He said, I do not want anything from you. I am a wandering Brahmin. Just give me three paces of land. So Mahabali said this fellow looks so tiny. How much land would be required in three paces anyway! In fact, his minister,is said to have advised him, ‘Sir, watch your mouth… you don’t know who he is!’ Mahabali said I have to give. The Vamana assumed gigantic proportions,and he started to lift his foot towards heaven. Then, he put one foot on the earth, and then with the second step, he covered Patala – the underworld. And since the whole universe was covered, he said I have one more foot to keep. Where will I keep it? The whole universe is covered. So, Mahabali said – Please keep it on my head. That’s the story. He went down into Paatala“ (the Kingdom under the earth) “with the condition that he will come every year to check how his subjects are doing.”
“This is the story of Mahabali. Two lessons – Lesson # 1: You cannot measure the Lord. And you cannot judge by his actions per say. Lesson # 2: A ruler must as generous as Mahabali that he can give even his head. That he gives a promise and he does not break it. These are the two lessons that we learn from the story. This reiterates the philosophy of coming back—that you will go and come back. Same way, Mahabali comes every year. Always ready to give. Not expecting anything in return. Not worrying too much about giving. This is Onam.”
“Right now, I have nothing to give you except my love. What I’m expecting from you is Onam sadhya. I am not such a good man like Mahabali to give without asking in return. Since, for a long time, we have not had Kerala food…some samskaaras are left. Yesterday, we had good Kerala food… except they forgot the paruppu” (dal) “I went and asked the Malayali teachers.”
“So, today let’s enjoy Onam. It’s a festival of flowers. 10 days in advance they start making the pookalam (floral patterns ) in front of all the houses to welcome Mahabali when he comes to visit the kingdom. Onam does not belong to any particular religion in Kerala. It’s a state festival.
Let’s stay together and make it a world festival. That’s also the message of Manav Ekta. Manav Ekta, in this context means when you get food, whether it is Kerala food or any other food, you enjoy!