A pandemic could not break the Onam spirits of Kerala’s disabled community!
This year, 31 August was celebrated as Onam by Malayalis across the world. The Coronavirus pandemic could not bring down the spirits of Kerala’s biggest festival, and every Malayali made sure to celebrate it from inside the comfort of their homes with family and friends. We are taking a look at how people with disabilities in the state celebrated and welcomed the Malayali New Year.
Onam, the most celebrated and looked up to festival of the year for every Malayali is one filled with music, great vegetarian food and happiness. This year, the ten-day festival was marked on 31 August. Celebrated irrespective of religion, caste or creed, Onam is the beginning of harvest festival or New Year of the Malayali calendar.
This year, the Coronavirus pandemic spread did bring down the celebrations, but nothing could break the spirits of Malayalis. People with disabilities in Kerala share how they celebrated the festival with their loved ones inside their own homes. It was all about staying safe and healthy.
Here is all that you need to know about Onam
There are many legends and stories associated with Onam. But the most popular one is that of King Mahabali who ruled Kerala centuries ago. It is believed that during his reign, Kerala’s glory was at its peak. Lord Vishnu, who took the form of ‘Vamana’, granted him a boon to visit the land and the people that he ruled every year.
The ten-day festival begins with people decorating their homes with ‘Pookkalam’ (floral carpets). Temples across the state are decked up with lights, flowers and celebrations.
Each part of the state has different ways of celebrating it. The Vallam Kali, Ona Villu, Pulikali, worshipping Onathappan and Ona sadya (lunch on banana leaves with an array of Kerala dishes) are some of the most common sights seen in the state during this time.
Celebrations amidst a pandemic
Dhanya Ravi, a wheelchair user diagnosed with Brittle Bone Disease, is a social worker, disability rights advocate and Co-founder of NGO Aasman Foundation. Her onam was celebrated with family and cousins at hometown in Palakkad. “Onam is one of the most celebrated festivals for Malayalis. This year’s Onam was simple yet fun for me. I celebrated with my family and cousins, and visited their homes too. I love the significance of the story of King Mahabali. In spite of being born as a demon, he was compassionate and his qualities are something we all aspire to have. I wish everyone a happy and prosperous onam”.
Rajeev Palluruthy, Secretary, All Kerala Wheelchair Rights Federation (AKWRF) is an active social worker on wheelchair. He is also a part of NGO ‘Thanal’ that works towards empowering disabled people. This year, for Onam, ‘Thanal’ provided ‘Ona Sadya’ to people from economically backward families and those who are homeless.
“The Onam celebrations at home began from early morning. My mother prepared an ‘Ona Sadya’ which was enjoyed by all of us. We also had an online meet of people with disabilities as part of ‘Thanal’ initiative. Everyone celebrated the festival from inside the comfort of their homes. We all decided to not step out as a measure to stay safe and ensure our families are also safe”, says Rajeev.
Dhanya’s and Sherin’s special Onam celebrations
This Onam was special for wheelchair user Dhanya Gopinath. It was her first Onam after marriage. She got married to the love of her life last week. So amidst all the marriage preparations, Dhanya made sure to not miss out on Onam festivities too.
“This year, I celebrated Onam at my home as well as my husband’s home. We had a temple run in the morning and spent time with family. Due to the pandemic, a lot of our close relatives from other parts of India couldn’t visit us. But that is OK, because we all need to stay safe now. Covid has been a difficult time. We did the ‘Pookkalam’ and had a great ‘Ona Sadya’ as well”, says Dhanya.
For 18-year-old Sherin Mary from Kochi, this Onam was special because she wore a saree for the first time! Sherin, who was diagnosed with autism at a young age, has been wanting to wear a saree for long, says her mother Sangeetha John.
“We celebrated Onam at my parents’ house. Sherin and her sister Shreya picked flowers in the morning, put a beautiful floral carpet and had delicious Ona Sadya too. She is more into online shopping now due to the pandemic. We don’t want to step out. Highlight of this year’s Onam was that Sherin could wear a saree. She remained calm throughout. This was a 20-year-old saree and Sherin was thrilled”, says Sangeetha.
Onam celebrations over the past two years were low-key due to yearly floods in the state. This year, it was due to the coronavirus pandemic. But all these could not break the spirits of Malayalalis who are determined to re-build from scratch.
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