the grand spectacle of Kerala's snake boat race or 'valamkalli' is equally exciting for both the youth and the elderly to witness.
Today is Thiruvonam – the most important day for Malayalis across the world as they have been awaiting this as the D-day to celebrate the culmination of the ten-day festival that heralds the visit of their much beloved King Mahabali. Leading up to the day of ‘Thiruvonam’, Malayalis continue to celebrate with fun-filled cultural activities and festive initiatives that bring the spirit of Onam to life, be it the pulikali (tiger dance) or pookalam contests (floral carpet making contests), payasam contests (traditional sweet desserts contests) and more. Of course, the grand spectacle of Kerala’s snake boat race or ‘valamkalli’ is equally exciting for both the youth and the elderly to witness.
Back in the 80s when community gatherings became a big hit with the NRI crowd, the idea of holding peppy Bollywood numbers did not evoke interest. The NRIs used to proudly showcase their talent in singing the old Malayalam melodies that brought to life the culture of the state that they had left behind or in coming up with programmes that had a traditional theme. Nowadays, be it the programmes hosted by millennials in the state or NRIs across the world, the focus is on coming up with creative, contemporary and peppy themes. Be it in college Onam celebrations or NRI community Onam celebrations, Bollywood song and dance sequences are no longer frowned upon.
The Onasadhya has always been the most enticing factor for Malayalis but this year, it seems like ‘payasam’ contests are the true showstoppers for attracting both millennials and NRIs. It probably points to a recent trend of how Malayalis are becoming more creative and open to experimenting with fusion food even for a traditional festival such as Onam. Even college functions include such contests as part of their Onam celebrations. The KTDC group, for instance, has come out with more than 12 varieties of payasam that include contemporary items like pineapple payasam, carrot payasam and so on. Across the state, many hotels are holding either Payasam Fest or Payasam Contests to woo people to experiment with different flavours and combinations.
It has to be said that Onam was never as stylish and label-oriented as it now. The millennials and NRIs are very particular about how they are dressed for Thiruvonam, particularly for community gatherings and celebrations. Branded Onam clothes, jewellery and accessories are a rage, particularly if they come with a designer’s label and price tag. Gone are the days when men would wear a plain new shirt and a simple mundu and women would wear a plain cream and gold brocade Kerala saree. Most gatherings now find that millennials are dressed very stylishly, often in casual wear and some opt for dressing traditionally but opt to do so with modern combinations such as teaming up over a long kurta worn over a traditional mundu. Fusion wear has caught the imagination and interest of global Malayalis. Even the once-traditional Kerala kasavu sarees come with a more contemporary elements and designer options. Printed Kerala kasavu sarees are also in much demand as compared to the conventional plain cream and gold brocade combinations.
Onam used to be a very private affair, even when communities gathered to celebrate it in a spirit of togetherness. However, Onam celebrations are now changing rapidly, with selfies in mundu and Kerala sarees becoming a norm. People post their pookalams, their Onam outfit and even pictures of the Onasadhya on Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp groups. A more interesting trend is that it is not only young Malayalis who share on social media and WhatsApp, but even the older generation are sharing their Onam selfies and sadhya images with great enthusiasm on social media and WhatsApp.
Once a family affair or a community gathering with loved ones, Onam has now transformed itself into a more stylised form where five-star hotels, food courts, and movie theaters have emerged as popular places also become places that people frequent to chill out and spend their Thiruvonam with families, instead of staying at home or spending time with family. The trend of eating out on Thiruvonam has also contributed to this new trend.
With Thiruvonam around the corner, Malayalis are all set to welcome their much loved King Mahabali in ways that reflect the changing lifestyles and habits of Malayalis, mostly the millennials and the NRIs.