Onam is the biggest and the most important festival of the state of Kerala. It is a harvest festival and is celebrated with enthusiasm by people of all communities. Although a cultural rather than a religious feast, it is a good opportunity to thank God for his goodness.
Onam was celebrated in Cambourne on October 8: this is at the beginning of the month of Chingam, the first month of Malayalam Calendar. This year celebrations were delayed out of respect for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth.
In Kerala the carnival lasts from four to ten days. Elaborate feasts, folk songs, elegant dances, energetic games, elephants, boats and flowers all are a part of a dynamic festival. People make every effort to celebrate in a grand way.
Onan is a sign of respect between the different religious communities. Such celebrations have helped the economy flourish in the state as well as in the worldwide Keralan diaspora.
Parishioners were able to join the most impressive part of Onam celebration, the grand feast called Onasadya, a nine-course meal consisting of 11 to 13 essential dishes. Onasadya is served on banana leaves and people sit on a mat laid on the floor to have the meal.
In Cambourne guests sat rather more luxuriously at tables with mass-produced paper banana leaves as plates. Food included ‘sambar’ vegetable stew with rice and spicy pickles eaten with the right hand. Shaju, Christy, Rex and Sebimon were amongst the crew serving food to a great number of guests in two very large sittings.
Anne from St John Fisher parish had made intricately designed flower mats called pookalam which would be traditionally placed in the front courtyard of a house.
There was also a programme of dance – Kaikotti Kali and Thumbi Thullal are two graceful dances performed by women on Onam. The parish is fortunate to have very proficient Indian dancers in our community, and some daughters like Jephline and Karen have gained impressive qualifications.
“We are deeply grateful to our Keralan Catholics,” writes Mel Ward from St John Fisher parish, “for their deep devotion to their faith and to the blossoming of Catholicism west of Cambridge. and their warm welcome to share their rich cultural traditions. We eagerly look forward to a curry night later in November and a Bollywood themed social around St Valentine’s Day in February.”
Pictured above the Onan celebration in Cambourne with a flower mat.