Thiruvananthapuram, Aug 24: With the state government cancelling the Onam celebrations, it is unlikely that Kerala households within the country or overseas will witness any festivities this year ignoring the huge loss of life and property in the devastating floods.
The Kerala government has already diverted the Rs 30 crore earmarked for state-sponsored celebrations to extend relief to the survivors of the worst floods in the state in nearly a century.
Similarly, reports of cancellation of the Onam celebrations by Kerala expatriates have come from the Middle East and even Canada.
Around 370 persons have lost their lives since the monsoon rains began on May 29, with widespread destruction to public and private property, which the state has pegged at more than Rs 20,000 crore. More than one million people have taken shelter in relief camps in Kerala.
Tourism Minister Kadakampally Surendran, who was overseeing the Onam festivities, said that he too failed to recollect any instance when the celebrations were called off.
“This tragedy has damaged our state immensely as lakhs of people continue to suffer. Many people have lost their life-long savings… thus, the celebration of Onam by the state is out of the question.”
Cardinal Moran Mar Baselios Cleemis Catholicos, head of the city-headquartered Syro Malankara Catholic Church, told IANS that this could be the first Onam with no festivities in the state.
“Onam provides a sense of unity as everyone celebrates the festival. However, this time too there is ‘unity’ but it is about people coming out in huge numbers to help those affected by floods,” he remarked.
Celebrations of Onam start on ‘Atham’ day, 10 days before ‘Thiruvonam’ (which falls on August 25). However, on that day, the state was grappling with torrential rains and their aftermath as a red alert was issued in several areas after dams overflowed and rivers were swollen.
Onam, the harvest festival, is marked by three important days — First Onam that falls on Friday (today), followed by Thiruonam on Saturday, and third Onam on Sunday.
According to a legend, the state witnessed its golden period during the reign of King Mahabali. Onam is celebrated to mark King Mahabali’s annual visit to see his subjects.
A traditional 26-dish ‘Onam Sadya’, often dubbed the ‘mother of all vegetarian meals’, is served in every household on the three Onam days.
Onam falls in the month of ‘Chingam’, the first month according to the Malayalee calendar. On that day (August 17), thousands of Kerala residents in several districts were fleeing their homes to find shelter in relief camps.
As many as 12 of the 14 districts in the state have been devastated by floods, with Kasargode and Thiruvananthapuram the exception on this count.
“I am 93… I cannot recall any year when the Onam festivities were called off. I also cannot recall any tragedy of this magnitude ever hitting Kerala in my lifetime,” a retired teacher told IANS.
However, a few old-timers recall the Vypeen hooch tragedy in 1982, in which 77 persons were killed near Kochi on Onam day. The victims were mostly fisherfolk and labourers.
Sarala Devi, a retired government official residing near Thiruvalla, which was badly affected, also sounded gloomy over Onam celebrations this year.
“I don’t think anyone will be able to savour a sumptuous Onam Sadya, as one or the other you know has been affected by floods. Besides, one has been witnessing on TV channels the huge loss of lives and destruction caused by floods. I doubt if anyone will be able to enjoy the Onam lunch after all this,” she said.
The business of sellers of flowers in various places on the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border, has been clearly affected. “Even in the state capital, which has not been much affected by floods, people are not coming out to buy flowers,” a retailer in the city pointed out.
However, amid the gloom, there are many trying to cheer up the survivors. Those managing the relief camps plan to serve at least a decent Onam lunch to nearly a million persons still lodged in relief camps.