Why is Onam so important a festival to Malayalees, so much so that the few other festivals such as Vishu and Christmas are dwarfed in front of it? In Kerala we do not celebrate Dussehra, Diwali, or Holi.
Onam is celebrated in Chingam (mid-August to mid-September), the first month of the Malayalam calendar. Let us revisit the month that has just passed, Karkidakam (mid-July to mid-August), the last month in the Malayalam calendar. Karkidakam is known as ‘panja’ Karkidakam, or the ‘pauper’ Karkidakam. This is a completely wet month with incessant rains. Having finished all the grains in the store, people find it difficult to make both ends meet. Due to the continuous rains, there is no work, making the days more boring, aimless and pathetic. In short, Karkidakam is a boring, sad, and drenched month when people tend to loose hope.
Maybe this is why people spend the month praying and reading religious books. Ramayana, the story of Lord Sri Rama, for example, is read in every home, throughout the month. Therefore Karkidakam is also called the ‘Ramayana month’. Any creative activity which serves yourself or others is service to God. When there is no occasion for any such activity, they find it most beneficial to utilise the time praying. They are happy that they get a lot of extra time for religious chores.
All these change with the arrival of the New Year. The incessant rains have given way to occasional pleasant drizzles. The cold and wet days are gone and warm sunny days are here. After harvesting, the stores are full and so are the minds and bellies of people. Plants and creepers are covered with fresh green leaves and flowers and their fragrance fills the air. Plants feel so happy that they not only smile at you when you pass them, but also dance to the tunes of the slow winds. They too have found new expectations and new happiness. Disappointment has given way to new hopes and we look forward to a great year ahead. Animals and birds too join the festive mood. The whole atmosphere is filled with positive energy, happiness, content, and love.
What more does one need to feel happy and spread happiness, love, and warmth all around? Onam is celebrated in such an atmosphere. No doubt, Onam is the happiest and most important festival for all Malayalees!