SEPTEMBER 21/22, 2016
May Catholics celebrate the festival of Onam?
It appears that they may not, according to what my research on the Internet and my discussions with Malayali (Keralite) Catholics in full time ministry based in the state of Kerala have revealed.
The harvest festival Onam is the major festival celebrated in Kerala, India. It is also the State festival of Kerala with State holidays on 4 days starting from Onam Eve (Uthradom) to the 3rd Onam Day.
The festival falls during the Malayalam month of Chingam (Aug – Sep) and marks the commemoration of home-coming of the King Mahabali. In Kerala, it is the festival celebrated with most number of cultural elements such as Vallam Kali, Pulikali, Pookkalam, Onathappan, Tug of War, Thumbi Thullal, Kummati kali, Onathallu, Onavillu, Kazhchakkula, Onapottan, Atthachamayam etc. Onam is reminiscent of Kerala’s agrarian past, as it is considered to be a harvest festival.
Onam is an ancient festival which still survives in modern times. It is one of the rarest festivals which is celebrated by a complete State, irrespective of religion, caste and creed. Kerala’s rice harvest festival and the Festival of Rain Flowers, which fall in the month of Chingam, celebrates the Asura King Mahabali’s annual visit from Patala
(the underworld). Onam is unique since Mahabali (locally known as Maveli) has been revered by the people of Kerala. The King is so much attached to his kingdom that it is believed that he comes annually from the nether world to see his people living happily. It is in honour of King Mahabali that Onam is celebrated. The deity
Vamana, also called Thrikkakarappan is also revered during this time by installing a clay figure next to the floral carpet (Pookalam). The birthday of Sri Padmanabhan
(see page 5), the presiding Deity of Thiruvananthapuram, is on the Thiruvonam day in the month of Chingam. Thiruvonam day is the most important day of Onam. In 2016, Thiruvonam fell on the 14th of September.
Mahabali’s rule is considered the golden era of Kerala, ancient Bharata. The following song is often sung over Onam:
When Maveli ruled the land,
All the people were equal
Times when people were joyful and merry;
They were all free from harm.
There was neither anxiety nor sickness,
Deaths of children were unheard of,
No wicked person was in sight anywhere
All the people on the land were good.
There was neither theft nor deceit,
And no false words or promises.
Measures and weights were right;
There were no lies,
No one cheated or wronged his neighbor.
When Maveli ruled the land,
All the people formed one casteless race
Onam mythology may have been devised as a political allegory/tool where by the subjects could remind the rulers about an Ideal King and a welfare state. Onam songs mentions many of the modern social/economic indicators of a Welfare State including crime rates, child mortality rates etc. Rulers may also have promoted it as it may have served as an indicator/barometer of the popularity/unpopularity of their governance policies. The beauty of the festival lies in its secular fabric. People of all religions, castes and communities celebrate the festival with equal joy and verve. Onam also helps to create an atmosphere of peace and brotherhood by way of various team sports organised on the day.
The celebrations of Onam start on Atham day, 10 days before Thiruvonam. The 10 days are part of the traditional Onam celebrations and each day has its own importance in various rituals and traditions.
1. Atham The first day of Onam celebrations starts with Atham day in the Malayalam month of Chingam. It is believed that King Mahabali starts his preparations to descend from Pathala (netherworld) to Kerala on this day. The day also marks the start of festivities at Thrikkakara temple (see page 5), which is considered as the focal centre of Onam and the abode of Mahabali, with the raising of the festival flag. The Onam celebrations across the state, starts off with a grand procession at Thrippunithura near Kochi called Atthachamayam. In olden days, the Kochi Maharaja used to head a grand military procession in full ceremonial robes from his palace to the Thrikkakara temple. After independence, the public took over the function and celebrated as a major cultural procession which kicks off the official celebrations of Onam. Elephant processions, folk art presentations, music and dancing make Athachamyam a spectacular event which is now aggressively promoted as a tourist event.
The traditional ritual of laying pookkalam (floral carpet) starts on Atham day. The pookkalam on this day is called Athapoo, and it is relatively small in size. The size of the pookkalam grows in size progressively with each day of the Onam festival. Only yellow flowers will be used on Atham with only one circular layer made and the design is kept simple. Statues or figurines of Mahabali and Vamana are also installed at the entrance of each house on this day.
2. Chithira The pookkalam design on the second day consists of a second layer added on top with 2 different colours apart from yellow (mostly orange and creamy yellow). On this day, people start cleaning the household to prepare for the Thiruvonam day.
3. Chodhi On the third day of Onam celebrations, the pookalam starts growing in its size by adding new layers or designs with at least 4 to 5 different flowers. The day also marks the start of shopping activities. Onam is associated with gifting new clothes, hence from this day onwards people start buying new clothes and jewellery. The Kerala sari or Kasavu sari is a hot favorite during this time, not just in Kerala but in other parts of India as well.
4. Vishakam The fourth day of Onam celebrations. Vishakam is considered to be one of the most auspicious days of Onam. In olden days, the markets open their harvest sale on this day, making one of the busiest days in the markets for public. Nowadays, Vishakam marks the start of many Onam-related competitions such as Pookkalam competition.
5. Anizham The fifth day of Onam celebrations is one of the most important days in the Onam celebration, as it kicks off the great Vallamkali (snake boat race) in many parts of Kerala. The snake boats are prepared for participation in the boat race at Aranmula Uthrattathi Vallamkali. A mock Vallamkali is conducted on this day at Aranmula as a dress-rehearsal for the final boat race which will be held after Onam.
6. Thriketa The sixth day of Onam celebrations. By the sixth day, the public frenzy starts building up. Most of the schools and public offices are granted holiday from this day onwards and people start packing their bags to their native homes to celebrate the festival with their dear ones. The pookkalam design will be very large by this time, with at least 5 to 6 new flowers types added to the original designs.
7. Moolam The seventh day of Onam celebrations. On this day, the smaller versions of traditional Ona Sadya (Onam lunch feast) start in many places. Most of the temples offer special sadyas on from this day. Festivities include Puli Kali (masked leopard dance) and traditional dance forms like Kaikotti Kali which are performed in various functions. The official Government celebrations start on this day with heavy illuminations in Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi and Kozhikode along with fireworks.
8. Pooradam The eight day of Onam celebrations. The day starts off with a major traditional ritual where the small statues of Mahabali and Vamana will be washed and cleaned and taken around the house in a procession. It will be later installed in the centre of the pookkalam smeared with a rice-flour batter. The smearing is done by small children who are called Poorada unnikal. From this day onwards, the statue will be called Onathappan (Lord of Onam). The pookkalam design from Pooradam day onwards gets much bigger and complex in design. Shopping is one of the major activities as the public will be making final purchases for the great Thiruvonam day.
9. Uthradom The ninth day of Onam Celebrations. Uthradom is the ninth and the penultimate day of the festival of Onam. It is considered as Onam eve and celebrated in a very big way. The importance of this day is last minute extreme shopping frenzy called as Uthradappachil and is considered the most auspicious day for purchase of fresh vegetables and fruits along with other provisions from the Thiruvonam day. Uthradom is known as ‘First Onam’ because it marks the day when King Mahabali descends onto Kerala. Traditional myths say that the king will spend the next four days touring his erstwhile kingdom and blessing the subjects. Due to this, Uthradom is celebrated in a very pompous manner with larger pookkalams and celebrations in all households. The Uthradom lunch is generally grand. Women normally cut the first set of vegetables on this day that marks the celebrations of Thiruvonam in each household and preparations for grand Thiruvonam feast also start during the evening of Uthradom day.
10. Thiruvonam The tenth and final day of Onam celebrations that culminates the 10 days of Onam carnival. The day is known as Thiru-Onam (Sacred Onam Day) also known as ‘Second Onam’. Myth says that this was the day Mahabali was sent to the netherworld (Pathalam) by Vamana. The day marks the return of Mahabali to his fabled land (Kerala), as per the boon he received from Vamana to meet his subjects and bless them. Apart from this myth, this day is considered auspicious being birthdays of several temple deities representing Vishnu,
like Vamana of Thrikkakara temple, Sree Padmanabha Swamy of Thiruvananthapuram etc.
Activities begin early in the morning. People clean their house, apply rice flour batter on the main entrance (a traditional welcome sign), take an early bath, wear new clothes and distribute alms to needy. The eldest female member of each family presents clothes to all the members of the family. Special prayers and Masses are organized in temples, churches and mosques that highlight the secular nature of festival. The pookkalam is prepared to welcome Mahabali.
Most cities in Kerala, such as the political, commercial and cultural capitals Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi and Thrissur, are lit up with lights and fabulous displays of fireworks. Sumptuous Onam Sadya feasts are prepared. In Thrikkakara temple, a mega-feast is conducted which is open to the public and is attended by more than twenty thousand people. The afternoon is marked with various traditional Onam games, usually seen in rural areas, and are organized by resident associations and clubs in large cities. In some parts of Kerala, people indulge in various games and dances (Onakkalikal) during and post Thiruvonam. These include Thiruvathirakali, Kummattikali, Pulikali etc.
Post Onam celebrations
Normally, the largest chunk of Onam celebrations end by Thiruvonam. However the two days following Thiruvonam are also celebrated as Third and Fourth Onam. The third Onam, called Avvittom marks the preparations for King Mahabali’s return ascension to heavens. The main ritual of the day is to take the Onathappan statue which was placed in the middle of every pookkalam during the past 10 days and immerse it in nearby rivers or sea. The pookkalam will be cleaned and removed after this. The day is also important, as the famous Pulikali is held in the city of Thrissur. In this, men dressed as lions, tigers and leopards, parade through the city in large numbers. The Puli-Kali also mark the end of traditional Onam celebrations.
The fourth day of Onam is called as Chatayam. The official government celebrations ends on this day with a mega dance festival in the capital city, Thiruvananthapuram.
The main centre of festival is at Vamanamoorthy Thrikkakara temple within Kochi City, believed to be the ancient capital of King Mahabali.
The temple is dedicated to Lord Vamana and is directly linked to the mythological background of Onam.
The floral carpet, known as ‘Onapookkalam’, is made out of the gathered blossoms with several varieties of flowers of differing tints pinched up into little pieces to serve the decorator’s purpose. It is considered a work of art accomplished with a delicate touch and a highly artistic sense of tone and blending. When completed, a miniature pandal (umbrella) hung with little festoons is erected over it. The pookkalam is similar to Rangoli (see list at end of the present file) which is made of powders of various colors and is popular in North India.
Traditionally, Atthapookalams (pookalam made on the Atham day) included flowers endemic to Kerala and the Dashapushpam (10-flowers), but nowadays all varieties of flowers are used. Earthen mounds, which look somewhat like square pyramids, representing Mahabali and Vamana are placed in the dung-plastered courtyards in front of the house along with the Pookalam, and beautifully decorated with flowers. In the recent years, the floral designs have evolved from the traditional circular shape to unique designs depicting different cultural and social aspects of Kerala life. All over Kerala, Pookalam competitions are a common sight on Onam day. People start putting atha-pookalams from Atham (first day of 10-day festival) till thiruvonam, while only some put Onam Pookalams till the 28th day after thiruvonam.
The Onam sadya (feast) is another very indispensable part of Thiruvonam, and almost every Keralite attempts to either make or attend one. The Onasadya reflects the spirit of the season and is traditionally made with seasonal vegetables such as yam, cucumber, ash gourd and so on. The feast is served on plantain leaves and consists of about 26 dishes…
Music and Dance
Traditional dance forms including Thiruvathira, Kummattikali, Pulikali, Thumbi Thullal etc. are performed as part of celebrations all over Kerala at this time. Thiruvathirakali is a women’s dance performed in a circle around a lamp, and is given special importance during Onam. Kummattikali is a famous and colourful-mask dance. In Thrissur, festivities includes a procession consisting of caparisoned elephants surrounded by Kummatikali dancers. The masked dancers go from house to house performing the colorful Kummattikali.
Kathakali dance is also commonly performed during this time, with dancers enacting famous mythological legends. A famous venue for this is at Valluvanad which is associated with the growth of Kathakali, and Cheruthuruthy, where Kerala Kalamandalam is located.
Pulikali, also known as Kaduvakali is a common sight during Onam season. This dance showcases performers painted like tigers in bright yellow, red and black, who dance to the beats of instruments like Chenda and thakil.
Performances of the ritual worship dance Theyyam are given during the Onam season. In this, Mahabali is played by the Onathar. Its variations include characters such as Oneswaran and Onapottan*. *Picture on next page
At the Thrikkakara temple, every day of the festival showcases one or more of these activities including Kathakali, Thiruvathira, Chakyar koothu, Ottam thullal, Patakam, Onam songs and percussion instrument shows. The Onasadya here is grand in scale, and is attended by over ten thousand people from all religions and faiths.
During the Onam, Keralite Hindus install an image of Thrikkakara Appan or Onatthappan (Vishnu in the form of Vamana) in their home just as Hindus install images or murtis of Lord Ganesha on the Ganesha Chaturthi festival.
Many lamps are lit in Hindu temples of Kerala during this celebration. A palmyra tree is erected in front of temples and surrounded with a wooden balustrade and covered with dry palmyra leaves. It is lit with a torch and burned to ashes to signify that King Mahabali went to Patala as a sacrifice.
According to the Hindu mythology, Mahabali was the great great grandson of a Brahmin sage, Kashyapa and grandson of Prahlada (son of Hiranyakashyapa who was slain by Vishnu in his Narasimha Avatara. Prahlada, despite being an Asura, had great faith in Vishnu. Mahabali had become a devotee of Lord Vishnu as a child due to his grandfather Prahlada.
Mahabali gradually became a powerful ruler of all the realms – heaven and earth, with the able guidance of his guru Shukracharya. The Devas (gods) saw the rise of the Asura king as a threat. Envious of Mahabali’s prosperity, the gods approached Vishnu and asked for his help, to which Vishnu agreed.
A variation of this story says that Vishnu stopped Mahabali as a boon to Aditi, who was the mother of the Devas. Kashyapa had two wives, Diti and Aditi, who were the parents of the demons and the gods (Asuras and Devas) respectively. Kashyapa, who had gone to the Himalayas to do penance, on his return found Aditi weeping for the fall of the Devas and the rise of Asuras. He consoled her, asked her to pray to Vishnu and taught her Payovrata, a ritual that has to be observed from the 12th day of the bright half of Karthika (Sukla-paksha Dvadasi). Since Aditi carried out the Vrata with a pious heart, Vishnu appeared before her and agreed to help Indra, the king of Devas.
Another version of the story says that Mahabali grew pompous, due to the praise and respect by his courtiers and subjects, and came to believe that there was no greater person in the world other than him. Believing himself to be the ruler of the three worlds, he took pride in thinking he could grant anyone whatever they asked. It is said that in order to curb his pride, Vishnu decided to teach Mahabali that the Almighty was still above him.
Eventually, Vishnu was born as a boy to Aditi, and known as the Brahmin Vamana.
In the meantime, Mahabali was performing the sacrificial rite of the Viswajith Yagam or Aswamedha Yagam on the banks of the Narmada River in Brugacham, on the advice of his guru Shukracharya. The Vishwajith Yagam would allow Mahabali to secure very powerful weapons against Indra, thus further strengthening the Asura hold over the three worlds. Mahabali also declared that he would give anything that anyone sought from him during this Yagam.
Taking advantage of the Yagam and Mahabali’s declaration, Vamana (Vishnu disguised as a Brahmin) came to the Yaga-shala. Mahabali received the Brahmin boy with all traditional honours and courtesies. Mahabali expressed that it was his good fortune that Vamana had chosen to honour him with his presence. He asked Vamana what gift he desired, and said he was ready to fulfill anything. Vamana smiled and said: “I do not ask for anything great. All I need is land equivalent to three paces of my feet”.
On hearing this, Mahabali’s perceptive guru, Shukracharya, told Mahabali that the boy was no ordinary Brahmin, but Lord Vishnu Himself. He advised Mahabali not to promise the lad anything. But Mahabali was a king who would never go back on his word, considering it sinful to do so. Shukracharya insisted that he should not fulfill the demand of Vamana as he had come to deprive him of all his possessions.
However, all attempts of Shukracharya to dissuade Mahabali proved futile. Mahabali considered everyone who came to him for help as god himself and never refused them anything. Mahabali told his Guru: “Prana (life) and Maana (honour) are like the two eyes of a person. Even if life goes, honour should be protected. Knowing that the person that has come now is the Lord Himself, I should be the most fortunate one as the Lord, who gives everything to mankind, is seeking something from me.” Mahabali gladly said that even if Vishnu himself were to come to his sacrifice and ask for anything, he would deliver it.
Mahabali, determined to honour his promise, begged the pardon of his Guru for disregarding his advice, and resumed his promise to Vamana. Saying so, Mahabali asked Vamana to measure out his desired three paces of land.
Vamana grew in size until he towered above the heavens. With one footstep, he measured all of the earth. With the second, he claimed all of heaven. There was still one foot of territory that Mahabali owed him. Mahabali requested Vamana to place the final step on his head as the third step of land, for he had no other left. Vamana did so and in doing so, sent him down to Sutala, the heaven-like underworld. The site where he placed his foot is said to be the village of Thrikkakara (meaning place of the holy foot), and is the centre of the renowned Onam festival celebrated in relation to the legend of King Mahabali. Vamana then placed his foot and gave the king immortality for his humility. He was also allowed to return every year to see the citizens of his country. The festival of Onam is related to this return of Mahabali.
Thrikkakara Temple is one of the few temples in India dedicated to Lord Vamana the fifth incarnation of Lord Vishnu. It is situated in Thrikkakara, 2 kilometers east of Idapally near Kochi. The name Thrikkakara means the holy place where Lord placed His foot. Thiru-kal-kari later became Thrikkakara.
The Onasadya or the Onam feast is held on Thiruvonam day in a grand manner in the temple
Thrikkakara Appan or Vamana is worshipped during Onam celebrations.
The festival of Onam that first began to be celebrated at Thrikkakara has spread from there…
The pookkalam, roughly translated as a flower carpet, has always been an integral part of Onam. The festival kicks off on Atham day when courtyards and floors are decorated with colourful patterns woven out of flowers. This goes on for 10 days till Thiruvonam. Like in the case of everything, the tradition, dimension and patterns of the pookkalams differ from region to region in the State. It was usual to see multi-tiered pookkalams in South Kerala with an image of Ganapathi placed in the centre of the last tier. With passage of time this must have changed in these regions. In central Kerala, the Onathappans, symbolising Thrikkakarappan, or Vamanan, one of the avatars of Lord Vishnu, finds place at the centre…
Benny Behannan, MLA, who represents the Thrikkakara Assembly constituency, said that Thrikkakara temple embodied the spirit of the Onam festival…
Sri Padmanabhan (see page 1) and the Padmanabhaswamy Temple
The principal deity Vishnu is enshrined in the “Anantha Shayanam” posture, the eternal yogic sleep on the serpent Adisheshan…
Asuras are mythological lord beings in Indian and Persian texts who compete for power with the more benevolent devas (also known as suras). Asuras are described in Indian texts as powerful superhuman demigods or demons with good or bad qualities. The good Asuras are called Adityas and are led by Varuna, while the malevolent ones are called Danavas and are led by Vritra.
Extracts from Catholic Answers forum
Onam is actually Harvest festival of Kerala. It is also a Hindu festival. Christians participate in the celebration of Onam.
It is also linked with a Hindu myth that there existed a kingdom in Kerala ruled by an Asura King Mahabali. During his rule all peoples are treated as equals. There is no theft, burglary in that kingdom. There is no poverty in that kingdom. Happiness are seen everywhere. Then the Devas became jealous about this kingdom and they asked God Vishnu to put an end to this. And God Vishnu took incarnation as Vamana, the 5th avatar of Vishnu and put his foot on the head of the King Mahabali and send him to Patalam and God Vishnu allowed Mahabali to visit his people once in a year and it is believed that Mahabali comes to visit his kingdom during Onam time.
Mahabali is a king of the lower Dravidian caste.
Eating sadhya or a common meal may be done in a certain way by certain upper caste Hindus.
According to the ‘Hindu’ myth, the 6th avatar of Vishnu created our state Kerala which was already ruled by Mahabali who was thrown out by the 5th avatar of Vishnu. Logically, how can this make sense? Before creating a state how can a ruler and his story be there?
Another view is “Historians give a different twist to the legend. According to them, Mahabali, a Buddhist, was defeated by kings from Narmada (currently Maharashtra) in the North. Subsequently, they conquered the land and sent him into exile in Eelam which is currently known as Sri Lanka. It was believed that permission was granted to Mahabali to come and visit his subjects during the period when they traditionally celebrated Sravanolsavam. Therefore, for Keralites, it may be a symbolic description of the Aryan invasion and the imposition of its culture on the native Dravidian populace of Kerala.”
Though Onam is now propagated as a Malayali festival by Kerala Tourism and is joined in by Malayalis of all faiths, it is a Hindu festival. It celebrates the return of the Asura King who was forced into exile to “pathaalam’ by the Hindu Gods who were scared of his growing support base and gathering power. It was not justice done or a fight against injustice. Orthodox Hindus celebrate it with poojas and offerings to Maveli and Vishnu. So if Onam is to be celebrated in its true sense and meaning it would be against God’s Commandments of Exodus 20:2-4…
Now if your Hindu neighbor is celebrating the festival and invites you to join in the celebrations that is a different matter. Then all the neighborly love, understanding each other’s cultures and religious tolerance, living in a society etc. factors comes into play. As a true Christian one should show the tolerance, neighborly love etc. It does not mean that you go and involve yourself and participate in their poojas and offerings. The Onasadya itself is a feast hosted in honor of Maveli on his visit to each household. No Hindu will serve the Sadya to anyone without first laying it out in front of the idols. So should we partake in the sadya? Would it not be partaking in the offering made to Maveli/Vishnu? … Therefore in my opinion we should not be celebrating Onam in our Churches. –Varghese, commenting in http://jerryachensworld.blogspot.in/2014/09/celebrating-onam-why-festivals-and.html
Hindu mythology teaches that Mahabali was a “Demon” (Asura) king. Also there was fighting / rivalry always between Asuranmar and Devanmar (between demons & gods). After knowing this fact that Mahabali was a “demon king” do you personally think it is right to celebrate Onam in the church? We do not celebrate Ramzan or Bakrid in the church, so as no other religion celebrate Christmas or Easter in their place of worship. Let the Hindu festivals be theirs and let the Muslim festivals be theirs. –Anonymous, commenting in http://jerryachensworld.blogspot.in/2014/09/celebrating-onam-why-festivals-and.html
An extract from the blog of Fr. Nelson MCBS
Onam (Malayalam: ഓണം) which is also known as Vamana Jayanthi is a Hindu festival and the state festival of Kerala celebrated by the people of Kerala, India. The festival commemorates the Vamana avatar of Vishnu and the subsequent homecoming of the legendary Emperor Mahabali.
The Importance of Onam
August 14, 2010
Kerala considers Onam to be the beginning of a New Year. Temples in Kerala have special pujas on this day.
As we celebrate Onam, one of our most sacred spiritual festivals, it is time to ask ourselves what is really important for our survival. What keeps us going? Not just in work, but in life. Who we want to be…. Not where we want to be.
While we celebrate Onam, we Hindus have a responsibility. We may have to do more than enjoying our feast. Perhaps, we may pause for a moment from the blinding virtual reality and rediscover the center of our Being. We must rediscover our moral-cultural-spiritual values. We must reintegrate our spirituality with cyber technology. During the Onam season, let us join together and pledge to rediscover and nurture our eternal Hindu Dharma. It is a spiritual responsibility and pleasurable journey. Let us set off this new spiritual pursuit to fill the gap between spiritual space and cyber space.
Striving to bring sanity, harmony, and spirituality in our life and in our world demands creativity, dedication and commitment. It is time to articulate our eternal Dharma.
Hindus across Kerala need to be aware of the commercialization and distortion of Onam. Several companies have announced the launch of Onam special sales to promote their products. The commercialization of Onam across Kerala has damaging effects on the Hindu community, and the society at large. It impacts our culture, distort our tradition and misdirect our Hindu focus. Secularists, Communists, Islamists and missionaries are promoting Onam as an agricultural/harvest festival to denigrate Hindus. It is a deliberate attempt to cut of Hindu roots from the sacred Onam festival and promote it as a commercial event.
Hindus must acknowledge the ascent of these secular games and tyranny and stop the commercialization and distortion of Onam. Hindus must reassert the Hindu origin of Onam, cultural nationalism and resist secularizing Hindu festivals. Hindus must reassert pride and glory of our Hindu past for the future of Kerala. Hindus need to return to authentic Hindu origins and its spiritual sanctity.
It is time to preserve, protect, practice and articulate our cultural heritage. It is usually only in articulating our Dharma, our belief system, and judgments to others that we know what we believe. Articulation follows reflection and study. Discussing our eternal Dharma is an important part of the critical process and opens us to new insights into our culture and spiritual values. It is up to us to translate our Dharma into our life, so that we can extend this heightened spirituality, this increased awareness to promote an integrated way of living. It is a challenge! With the blessing of God Vishnu, we are up to it.
The cumulative evidence presented above certainly proves that Onam is not just a celebration of the harvest but a religious one, a sacred Hindu festival at that, deities, demons, the caste factor and all.
Very recently, a major controversy only further confirmed the facts, but with a new twist:
Amit Shah’s Vamana tweet: Angry Malayalis win Dravidian support
RSS wants to undermine non-brahminical traditions
By M.T. Saju, Chennai, September 15, 2016
Good wishes are often taken as glad tidings. But, when Amit Shah wishes Vaman Jayanthi ahead of Onam
greeting, many Malayalis felt their festive mood had been tamped down. They trolled the BJP president on Twitter with a hashtag “PoMoneShaji” on Twitter. Apparently, the hashtag has developed from “PoMoneDinesha” (`Get lost my son, Dinesha), from ‘Narasimham’, a Mohanlal-starrer Malayalam hit that was released in 2000. (Jayanthi = birthday)
Coming to the support of the Malayali antagonists of Amit Shah were Dravidian groups east of the Western Ghats. They had been following the controversy in Kerala when an article in the state RSS mouthpiece ‘Kesari’ described Onam as a celebration of the birthday of Vamana, an avatar of Lord Vishnu, not the visit of legendary king Mahabali from the netherworld to check on his subjects. Heading an organization that has provided counter-narratives to Hindu epics including the Ramayana, Dravidar Kazhagam (DK) leader K. Veeramani said the Vamana Jayanthi
argument was a brahminical conspiracy of the RSS to replace the glory of legendary (asura) king Mahabali.
Distortion of history and negative portrayal of puranic characters that opposed brahmin supremacy are consistently carried out by the saffron brigade with the support of the ruling BJP at the Centre, said Dravidar Kazhagam president K. Veeramani in a statement on Wednesday, in response to a report, “RSS magazine paints Onam as Vamana Jayanthi” published by TOI on Sept 10. “Fabrication of historical facts has become the routine practice of the historical bodies, the presidium of which has been converted as the monopoly of saffron ideologies,” the statement said.
Some other Tamil groups have joined the chorus too.
Speaking to TOI, S. Seeman, chief coordinator of Naam Tamilar Katchi, said the RSS wanted to restrict the secular influence of Onam using their pseudo `ideology’. “Mahabali is not a Brahmin, and that’s why they (RSS) now hesitate to celebrate the asura king’s annual visit to his erstwhile kingdom. It’s ridiculous,” he said. Onam, says Seeman, is celebrated by people belonging to all religions. “Onam is not a religious festival. It’s closely associated with our culture and civilization. The RSS is trying to make it a religious one. If that happens, those belonging to other religions will stop celebrating Onam. It’s a dangerous trend,” said Seeman.
The nine avatars of Vishnu actually portray different stages of the Aryan conquest, says Veeramani. “The significance of king Mahabali was first highlighted by Mahatma Jotirao Phule,” adds Veeramani.
Scholar and historian A. R. Venkatachalapathy says it’s clear that the RSS wants to undermine pre-brahminical and non-brahminical traditions. “The RSS wants to undermine our non-brahminical traditions. It has been happening for a long time. The recent incident should be seen in that light,” he said.
Sangh accused of twisting Onam myths to suit its Kerala agenda
By B. Viju, Kochi, September 15, 2016
BJP president Amit Shah wishing people Vamana Jayanti reflects a vested political agenda and an attempt to homogenise Hinduism disregarding local heterogeneous myths of Kerala, said historian K N Panikkar.
Shah’s post caused a controversy as it came soon after a piece published in the Onam special issue of RSS mouthpiece Kesari cited the Srimad Bhagavatam to claim Onam was originally celebrated as Vamana Jayanti.
Panikkar said Onam and King Mahabali are part of a secular and egalitarian myth encompassing people of all castes and religions.
“It’s a known fact that the RSS is using divisive methods to gain a foothold in Kerala. By appropriating Onam as an upper-caste Hindu festival, they are trying to divide votes along caste lines,” he said. Panikkar said Kerala has long stood for plurality of religions and diverse voices. “We had our own local myths that may or may not be part of other national myths. The beauty of Onam is that it speaks about a king who reigned over a just society. Denigrating the myth by superimposing it with Hindutva agenda to make political inroads is dangerous for the secular fabric,” he said.
Rajan Gurukkal, social scientist and historian, said there are ancient scriptures that mention Vamana Jayanti and that it was celebrated by the Brahmin community.
“Vamana’s birthday falls on the Thiruvonam as per Malayalam calendar. Later, myths like that of Mahabali must have been added to assert the brahminical hierarchy,” he said.
Gurukkal questioned the existence of King Mahabali. “It’s possible that at a later stage King Mahabali got this subaltern image as the Dravidian underdog and Vamana became the brahminical deity. Onam, in due course, became a secular festival, removed of its feudal vestiges,” he said. K T Ravi Varma, who penned the book ‘Mahabali: Myth and history of Onam‘, says there is no mention of Mahabali in Rigveda and it was a later addition.
“It seems as though the Bali myth came from outside and it was mentioned in Mahabharata. Bali, over course of time, became Maveli, the magnanimous king. Anyway , when Onam became a celebration as the return of King Maveli at least for a day, the myth finally came out of the four walls of the temple and became a popular festival,” he observed in his book.
I was attending a retreat at
Divine Retreat Centre
run by the Congregation of Vincentian Fathers (VC) at Muringoor when they celebrated Onam with all the trappings and noise that one experiences at a temple. It was on either September 14, 1997 or August 27, 1996 (I had been there a several times from 1995 and cannot recall the year). The celebration occurred at night, after supper, and the highlight was a tumultuous cavalcade, “tigers” and all, carrying the asura demon king Mahabali coming from the netherworld around the campus to the accompaniment of pounding drums and fireworks.
It was a violent jolt to the spiritual consciousness after the generally prevailing atmosphere of adoration, praying in the Spirit and praise and worship of the retreat.
During the time of my attending the (First) Divine Bible College in Muringoor, July 4 to August 15, 1999, there were days when we were regaled with entertainment post-supper. On one such occasion, one item was by a troupe that performed “kalaripayattu”, the Kerala brand of martial arts.
It felt so “Hindu” that I left the hall for my dormitory, disgusted and disappointed. On the way, I met Glen and Teresa LaRive, the couple that was (and still is) leading Praise and Worship, standing outside in the darkness of the campus. Sharing my sentiments, they told me that eminent preacher Fritz Mascarenhas had already walked out minutes earlier saying that people would lose the anointing they had received during the classes, by attending such programmes.
A visiting Keralite friend informed me that when his wife went to pray at the Blessed Sacrament in St. Joseph’s Church, Vazhakkala, in Kochi on Onam day September 14, 2016, she found the Holy of Holies shut and in its stead were Onam paraphernalia and a nilavilakku (kuthuvilakku).
Divine Retreat Centre is far from being the only Catholic institution that celebrates Onam, much as Pongal, the Tamil “harvest” festival, is celebrated inside the church building in most parishes across Tamil Nadu.
At least the event immediately below took place in a hall, not inside the church, but below that we find an “Onam Mass” at the very same St. Joseph’s Church that I mentioned earlier.
Onam Celebration of St. Thomas Catholic Church, Mira Road East, Mumbai, September 14, 2014
October 17, 2014
Kochi, September 9, 2014
With Onam being considered the most secular of all festivals, St Joseph’s Catholic Church, Vazhakkala, in Kochi, under the Syro Malabar Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly, gave a befitting welcome to Maveli by concelebrating the Sunday Mass of the festival day in a special way with overtones of Kerala’s cultural tradition throughout the service.
The Mass was led by Fr. Antony Poothavelil, the parish priest, who along with his assistant priest, wore a traditional Kerala shawl over the usual Mass vestment and the altar boys had sandal paste on their foreheads. Nearly 90 per cent of the parishioners attended the service in traditional Kerala costume.
The church choir adopted a temple tune to suit the occasion. The offerings for the Mass were not the usual grapes or apples, but Kerala’s farm products like yam, coconut, pineapple, banana and ash gourd. And there was an ‘aarathi‘ at the sanctuary to top it all.
One could also hear Sanskrit renderings like ‘Yesuvaya Namaha’ and ‘Christuvaya Namaha’ during the service even as eight flowers were offered symbolizing the eight virtues of Christ. An Onam song was sung at the end of the Mass and payasam was distributed. “The idea was conceived by Fr. Poothavelil and it had approval of the parish council. Once the service was over, even those who had apprehensions over it changed their minds. It came out well and was a good experience,” said Mr. Joseph Kailath, a parishioner.
Evidently, there must have been multiple aberrations of the rubrics of the Holy Mass in order to accommodate the Onam liturgy. But who cares?
A senior spokesperson of the Kerala church is in denial about Onam being a Hindu festival:
[…] “It is the Hindu gods who ended a paradise-like rule,” said Father Paul Thelakkat, spokesman of the Kerala-based Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, but added “I cannot see this as a Hindu festival.”
With the arrival of the colonial Portuguese in the 16th century, European missionaries put restrictions on such celebrations. After Vatican II, church communities began to celebrate such feasts again, said Father Thelakkat…
The Synod of Diamper
The Synod of Diamper, held at Udayamperoor (called Diamper in non-vernacular sources), was a diocesan synod or council that laid down rules and regulations for the ancient Saint Thomas Christians of the Malabar Coast (modern Kerala state), India, formally uniting them with the Roman Catholic Church. It was convened on 20 June 1599, under the leadership of Aleixo de Menezes, Archbishop of Goa. Archdeacon George of the Cross was forced to comply with the wishes of the Archbishop of Goa. This separated the Saint Thomas Christians from the Mesopotamian Church and subjected them directly to the Latin Archbishopric of Goa. The Archbishopric of Angamale was downgraded to a bishopric under Goa in 1600 AD. Portuguese Padroado rule was thus imposed and the bishops for Saint Thomas Christians were appointed by Portuguese Padroado.
The synod solemnly began on the third Sunday after Pentecost, 20 June 1599. It was held in the church of Diamper (Udayamperoor) from 20 to 26 June 1599. Archbishop Menezes presided over the Synod. The Nestorian Patriarch was condemned as a heretic and schismatic, and they were made to swear that they would not accept any bishop except the one nominated by Rome
The Synod of Diamper condemned a multitude of Hindu beliefs, especially those related to Transmigration, Fate and Astrology. Hindu ceremonies and customs related to matrimony, death, birth and purification on touching lower castes which were prevalent among the Christians of St. Thomas, were abandoned altogether. They were even banned from frequenting to Hindu Festivities including Onam.
MAY CATHOLICS CELEBRATE THE FESTIVAL OF HOLI?
MAY CATHOLICS CELEBRATE THE HARVEST FESTIVAL OF PONGAL?
RANGOLI AND KOLAM DRAWINGS ARE BASED ON SUPERSTITIOUS BELIEFS
WHAT DOES THE KUTHU VILAKKU (NILAVILAKKU) OIL LAMP SIGNIFY
ARATI IN THE LITURGY-INDIAN OR HINDU
MANGALSUTRA-INDIAN OR HINDU?
WHAT IS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF NAMASTE AND ANJALI HASTA?
Categories: Hinduisation of the Catholic Church in India