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Onam 2015: a celebration of diversity

One can be found whining about the alienation on the part of certain groups in St. Stephens college, and about how cliquey communities can get; how conveniently they might ostracise you, if you land up in a group of a common language speaking people, or of a particular society or of a common demographic belonging.

For instance, few days into college I was informed of the presence of a mini Kerala thriving in Delhi; this fact was sealed with the overwhelming majority of Malayalis and the cult so formed around a Mallu don. So, geographical, linguistic, ideological plurality remains a characteristic merit, which of course, we all are proud of, but at times unmatched frequencies of these groups, can leave you feeling ‘left-out’.

The month of August was coming to an end, but with it, approached the event, which definitely altered all stereotypes, which had painted a deceptive picture in not only in my mind, but also of others.

With the advent of the Malayalam month of Chingam, which falls between August- September, St Stephen’s College was buzzing with an air of enterprise. Surcharged members of the Malayalam Literary Society organized meetings and discussions, for one of the most awaited events in college, which materialized on September 1st and 2nd, in revelry of the harvest festival, Onam.

Onam, one of the most vibrant and elaborate festivals of Kerala, commemorates the homecoming of the mythical righteous king, Mahabali. This imaginary annual visit of Mahabali from the nether world to meet his subjects is celebrated by Keralites with week-long festivities symbolic of the flourishing agrarian past and copious prosperity during the King’s reign. A sliver of this festival was brought to St. Stephen’s College, cherishing the myriad facets of God’s Own Country, for the two days.

On 1st September, surge of energetic voices echoed down the corridor; voices which seemed like tigers roaring, invited serried multitude of students all the way to the Café tree. Trail of First Years painted as tigers, cavorted along the drum beats, inviting bouts of laughter and amazement from the spectators. The ‘Puli Kali’ or tiger dance, a recreational folk art, lifted the festive mood, with a combined performance in the mess lawns; with the hilarious leopard chase by the hunters, human pyramid, and finally, unfurling the ‘Onam 2015’ banner in front of all bemused students. The Tug of war, known as Vadamvali was yet another entertaining event later in the day, which saw massive participation from all the students. That evening, a walk down the main corridor was no ordinary sight. Heaps of flowers in hues of yellow, orange, purple were laid. There was a different air of cheer that evening, with people crooning to the rhythm of Malayalam songs, while lending a helping hand in the preparations. The Fine Arts Society, meanwhile meticulously laid the outline for the massive floral carpet, ‘Pookkalam’ in the main portico which was soon to be adorned with flower petals.

September 2nd , was the day of Thiruvonam, when the legendary Mahabali descends on earth to revisit his populace, initiated with the Principal inaugurating the Onam celebrations at the main portico along with our very own King Mahabali, Akshay Cyril of 1st Maths honours. The inaugural ceremony was all the more scintillating with the beauteous Pookkalam, laid the previous night. It earned the appreciation of the Principal, who remarked that this would be his last Onam in college. On asking Mahabali whether he learnt Hindi, Mahabali spoke to Principal in fluent Hindi, inviting laughter from all. The ladies were dressed in impeccable off-white sarees with golden borders, and the boys in dashing mundus (and variations thereof, owing to feminist conveniences) brought a whole new festive zest to the day (and also, fodder for social media updates). The much awaited cultural show-case commenced soon afterwards, starting with the Onam vanchipattu or the ‘Boat song’, traditionally sung by the row men of all. The first year boys sang the Onam Song and got the audience involved in its rejuvenating rhythm. For aeons, the call of ‘Aarpo Eirro’ is known to enthuse and energise the spirit of camaraderie amongst the people. Later, The Third year ladies performed the traditional Thiruvathira dance, renowned for its impeccable team work and graceful moves. Portraying Parvati’s longing for Shiva, the thirty two dancers kept the spectators starkly gripped till the end. Then, Onam Sadya, considered to be the perfect meal of Kerala, was served by the Malayalam Literary Society. With umpteen varieties of dishes, people conveniently forgot that they could but eat only a finite amount, however mouth-watering the dishes were. The day ended with the screening of the blockbuster Malayalam film ‘Dhrishyam’ starring national award winning actor Mohanlal which has now been adapted into other Indian languages. The English subtitles were a boon for the non Malayali students but the acting prowess of the cast conveyed the message better than words.

Coming to think of this event, now that months have past, one can conjure all the beautiful memories made in those two days. The spirit of oneness was extraordinary. By promulgating the cultural vivacity of Kerala, we discerned a connection among people separated by vast distances. Simply by mingling over Onam lunch, in taking turns for eating dinner at the mess during the preparation period, in being taught the lyrics of Malayalam songs and being applauded for getting the unfamiliar words right, and in the smiles captured by the PhotoSoc, we unconsciously wove the fringes of a beautifully different culture with the spirit of ‘Being a Stephanian’.

For one thing I know: St Stephens is one place where all these privileges to witness amazing festivals knock at your door; and more than anything, it is a brilliant learning experience. Broadening your horizons and opening your mind, provides one with a deeper insight into the nuances of life and how people celebrate it, in their own distinct ways.It wasn’t only about upholding the idea of good governance, as exhibited by Mahabali, and celebrating the thriving prosperity of Kerala, but also the fact that this event certainly broke the ice between people belonging to separate communities, and enshrouded the spirit of revelry over these two glorious days.

After all the wonderful experience that we went through, I myself felt well bonded over with the people I worked and interacted. And with this, I congratulate the Malayalam Literary Society for having put up a very successful show-case of a beautiful culture, which enchanted one and all in its magic.

Thank you, PhotoSoc, for the wonderful pictures. Ever indebted. 


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