There has been no human society which did not have some myths and rituals. Myths and rituals are a kind of psychological defence mechanisms. Onam, Kerala’s most celebrated festival, revolves round the myth of a primitive king, Mahabali (more affectionately called ‘Maveli’), during whose reign there was no evil in the kingdom. A kingdom without evil is a fascinating myth. The associated rituals are meant to bring people closer to one another and to the environment. Onam stresses on social functions and art performances as well as floral decorations.
But the traditional ways of celebrating the festival have been replaced with modern ways dominated by new rituals. The high priests of the new rituals are traders of different shades, ranging from the unavoidable supermarket to the redundant jeweller, from the film industry to the television channels.
Onam is no more about equality and fraternity, goodness and generosity. It is about shopping and entertainment.
While there is nothing wrong about shopping or entertainment, there is much harm in redefining certain rituals. The original rituals of Onam reinforced relationships among people as well as between people and nature. Children went around gathering flowers from wherever flowers could be plucked. In the process they merged into the nature. They also met and spoke to the owners of the lands from where they collected the flowers. The adults came together to participate in or to be spectators of the various events and performances related to the festival. Flowers are now bought from the market and that too not for making the traditional floral carpet for Maveli but for participating in a floral carpet competition with substantial prizes. Entertainments are brought home by the TV channels; or at best the family makes it to the nearest mall where people ineluctably remain strangers.
What remains is the nostalgia conjured up by the traditional songs and dances telecast on the channels. The nostalgia gives us a longing for the good old days. But we know they won’t return. We don’t want them to return, really. It is impossible to give up our gadgets and luxury. It is impossible to be generous to the needy neighbour. It is impossible to be good.
So we shall be content with the old myth of Onam and its new rituals. Happy Onam!