Kerala Marks Muted Onam as Flood Dampens Harvest Hope; Sadyas Called Off to Feed Relief Fund
In the fortnight leading to the festival, which falls on Saturday, the state has been savaged by the worst rains in a century leading to several people being killed, houses destroyed and over ten lakh lodged in relief camps.
The festival commemorates the return of mythical demon king Mahabali to see his beloved subjects at the beginning of 'Chingam', the first month of the Malayalam Calendar.
The mythical ruler is traditionally welcomed with a carpet of flowers, popularly known as pookalam, in front of houses, and 'Onam Sadyas' (feasts) and people turn out in new attire. The fest is celebrated with great joy and enthusiasm by people across communities.
However, in the fortnight leading to the festival, which falls on Saturday, the state has been savaged by the worst rains in a century leading to several people being killed, houses destroyed and over ten lakh lodged in relief camps.
Water is yet to recede in several places and hundreds of houses are still submerged. "No flowers, no lights...you see a pall of gloom everywhere," P Mohandas, a Kathakali artiste, said.
"Mahabali will see the sufferings of his people hit by rains and floods instead of the usual fanfare associated with the biggest festival of Keralites as he visits their rain ravaged homes on Thiruvonam day on Saturday," he said.
Mohandas, hailing from flood-hit village of Mulakkulam North in Piravom in Ernakulam district, said many of the houses don't have the 'flower mats' (pookalam) in their courtyard to welcome Mahabali. All sectors, including tourism, business, art and culture, have been hit by the deluge last week.
Wishes on Twitter, too, were reflective of the long road ahead for Kerala in recovery and rehabilitation.
May this Onam give further strength to the people of Kerala to overcome the adversities they have been facing for the past few days. The entire nation stands shoulder to shoulder with Kerala and prays for the happiness as well as prosperity of it’s citizens.— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) August 25, 2018
This is a difficult time for the people of Kerala. In relief camps & homes across the state, people are grieving for their loved ones. On this Onam let us pledge to put aside our differences, stand united together and focus on the task of #RebuildingKerala.— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) August 25, 2018
Onam, subdued, but full of hope..— P.T. Usha (@PTUshaOfficial) August 24, 2018
Onam is here once again, and like always, we’ll celebrate. Only this time, instead of the usual festivities we are celebrating humanity, solidarity, togetherness, love and compassion for fellow human beings. #KeralaFloodRelief #RebuildKerala
The agony and distress faced by Kerala is matched by its verve and spirit in meeting the challenge. Warmest wishes for Onam. To better times— Sitaram Yechury (@SitaramYechury) August 25, 2018
ഓണം ആഘോഷത്തിന്റെ ഈ ശുഭമുഹൂർത്തത്തിൽ, കേരളം അതിവേഗം പൂർവ്വസ്ഥിതിയിലേക്കു മടങ്ങിവരാൻ സർവ്വേശ്വരനോടു പ്രാർത്ഥിക്കുന്നു. pic.twitter.com/Y2se60JIXq— Amit Shah (@AmitShah) August 25, 2018
Kerala Finance Minister Thomas Isaac, however, said the Onam spirit was high in relief camps.
Happy Onam. Camps are celebrating Onam in high spirits: sumptuous feasts, games for children , cultural performances and merriment. Great ! We have succeeded in totally transforming the usually morose airs of the camps. My Onam feast at SDV school with playback singer smt Chitra— Thomas Isaac (@drthomasisaac) August 25, 2018
Office-bearers of the Kerala Chamber of Commerce and Industry said the floods had severely affected Onam business. "Many businessmen in places like the rain ravaged town of Aluva have suffered heavy losses. Some of them have lost their entire stock in the floods.
The magnitude of loss for business community in other parts of the state is also very high," Chamber secretary R Sreenivasan said. The situation is no different in some areas which were not affected by the rain fury with people coming forward to offer money for the relief fund instead of splurging it on the festivities.
‘Pookalam’ or flower rangoli at a relief camp in Alappuzha district. (News18)
"We are not celebrating Onam and preparing Onam sadya, the grand meal, this time. Instead, we have decided to contribute money meant for it to buy relief material for affected people. Such is the sufferings of the people hit by floods," an employee of a private bank said.
Sreenivasan said they were assessing the total loss suffered by their members. "It will take some time," he said. Murugan, a flower vendor at the bustling Chalai market in Thiruvanathapuram, Kerala's capital, said the unprecedented rains and floods had washed away all the "colours of Onam."
"It is during Onam that we get the best business in a year. We plan several things calculating the profit which we get during this season. But, everything has turned upside down this time," he said.
"Only very few takers are there for flowers as there is no onam festivities in the wake of floods. Schools, colleges and government offices have cancelled celebrations. Nobody is interested in laying floral carpets," he said.
Many florists in the city have bought only very few quantities of flowers from neighbouring states in the wake of dull business.
Balachandran, a city-based caterer, said he has suffered a huge setback in business as a number of offices, resident associations and individuals had cancelled bookings for the Onam feast, ordered as part of the festivities.
"The bookings for wedding feasts have not been affected much. But, mass cancellations of orders for onam feasts from IT hub, Technopark and government and private offices are a worrying factor," he said. Though the downpour had not affected the capital city much, many have cancelled orders from firms as they decided to do away with the celebrations in the wake of deluge, he said.
Another private caterer said they had received orders from banks, IT firms and other offices for supplying 3,500 'Onam sadyas' from August 17-26, which got cancelled due to the present situation. A prominent vegetarian hotelier in Thiruvanathapuram, specialising in 'sadya', said they have also been hit by a lot of cancellations due to the flood situation.
"Many people have cancelled the orders as they want to donate the amount to the flood relief fund," he said. The heavy rains and floods have claimed 231 lives since August 8 and more than 10.40 lakh people are still in relief camps across the state.
Saluting the "characteristic grit and resilience" of the people of Kerala, President Ram Nath Kovind greeted them on the occasion of Onam.
In a message issued today by the Rashtrapati Bhavan, Kovind extended his greetings and good wishes to fellow citizens and, "especially to our brothers and sisters of Kerala in India and abroad".
He said may this festival bring peace and happiness to people, in particular to all those in Kerala who are recovering in the aftermath of the recent floods, and are gradually beginning to rebuild their lives with their characteristic grit and resilience. "May Onam mark a new beginning," he said.
(With PTI inputs)
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