Kerala has been celebrating Onam for years and years as a festival of equality, prosperity, and utopian dreams. The legend is that the reign of Maveli (Maha Bali) was a utopia. People were honest. They respected one another. Everyone was happy. Life had a heavenly dignity. The heavens were unhappy, however. Gods conspired to put an end to the earthly utopia. Vamana, an avatar of God Vishnu, encountered Maveli and sent him down to the netherworld (Patala) deceitfully.
Happy Onam to you
The right wing Hindu organisation, RSS, has come out in defence of the gods. Onam was originally a celebration of the birthday of Vamana and had nothing to do with Maveli, argues K Unnikrishnan Namboothiri in his article published in the Onam special edition of Kesari, the RSS mouthpiece in Malayalam.
Namboothiri wants to exculpate the gods from their deceitfulness and other venality. The Maveli legend “is an attempt by some vested interests to distort the mythical stories and paint in poor light the characters of Hindu Puranas," he writes, adding that such attempts to destroy Hinduism should be checked.
How much of the Puranas will be rewritten in order to exculpate the gods? There is a plethora of seduction, incest, conjugal infidelity, deception and much else in the most sacred Vedas. The Puranas have a lot of stories depicting sexual perversions. The Shiva Purana, for instance, speaks of Brahma as a cheat and a sex maniac. It contains a lewd story about Shiva and Parvati.
The gods molested the wives of the sages and even the wives of their own heavenly colleagues.
There is a lot more such entertainment in the ancient scriptures. How much of that will be rewritten by Namboothiri and his organisation? It is better to leave the scriptures to those who are interested in them. Most people are not interested in them. People want their gods and rituals. And some celebrations like Onam.
Onam is an innocuous festival that celebrates the human longing for a utopia. Why to meddle with that simple dream and its legends? We can never achieve that utopia. But we can celebrate the longing for it. We can remind ourselves of the possibility of such a utopia. We can rekindle in ourselves some ideals presented by the legend of Maveli. That’s the purpose of Onam. Why not let Kerala celebrate it without bringing in unsavoury religious revanchism?
Namboothiri and his organisation are doing a great disservice to the people of Kerala by raking up such controversies which have ulterior motives. As many commentators in Kerala have already pointed out, the controversy is trying to usurp the festival of Onam which is accepted by the people of Kerala as a secular festival and convert it into a Hindu festival.
There is already much communal polarisation taking place in the state though not very overtly. It is a dangerous trend. Namboothiri and his organisation are trying to fish in those troubled waters. It will do no one any good in the end.
Let Maveli return from Patala to visit his people this Onam too. Let Onam remain a secular festival expressing human longings for a better world. If possible, let us strive to make our world a better place. At least, let us not bring more toxin into it with the kind of articles that the RSS magazine carried this time.