|Flower carpet these days: A scene from home|
The flower boy is pushing his cart down our street shouting the names of the flowers. His cart is an amazing riot of colors. The jasmines, chrysanthemums, marigold and roses vie for my attention.
Instantly, I am transported to a place which is miles away and to a time that is decades ago. Flowers do this to me always. I can hear the laughter, the smell of mouth watering payasam, the fragrance of exotic wild flowers and the chatter of many a happy kid. The visit of a beloved King Mahabali is being awaited by every household and flower carpets are being created in the courtyard to welcome him.
Young maidens are humming the Onam song and are slowly grooving around in a circle doing the Thiruvathira dance.
|Thiruvathira dance Image Source|
“Maveli nadu vaneedum kalam,
Manusharellarum onnu pole.
Amodathode vasikkum kalam,
Aapathangaarkum ottilla thanum…”
Yes, they are singing and reminiscing the good old days when King Mahabali or Maveli ruled over Kerala. When there was happiness and prosperity all around, where there was no treachery and when Kerala was a safe haven.
Without fail, a duplicate Maveli would come to every house. A random pot bellied man selected from the village would don the role of Mahabali every year. As Kids, we genuinely revered the thick mustached, pot bellied King with the giant crown and colorful costumes. It didn’t matter that the crown was made of card board, the jewels plastic beads and the costume was on rent from the dance class.
With the arrival of Attham in the month of Chingam (August-September), our school holidays of ten blissful days would begin and so would plenty of fun. We would create flower baskets using leaves of teak and jackfruit tree which would be diligently weaved using the needles of coconut leaves. The hunt for flowers will begin once the intensity of the sunrays will begin to reduce. So after lunch we would set out with friends and foes to gather flowers— friends joined together to thwart the foes at the sight of the first flower bush.
There would be separate baskets for thumbappoo, Arippoo, Chembarathi, Kaakkappoovu, Hanumaan kireedam.
|Hanuman Kireedam: Image Source|
|Tumbappo : Image Source|
There would be strict instructions from elders about the ‘dos’ and ‘donts’ during flower gathering.
1) Do not harm the flower shrubs, pluck only the flowers: (Often obeyed, as we needed flowers for 10 days at a stretch)
2) No fights about who gets to pick flowers from which shrub: (Often ignored and the results were bruised knees, bite and nail marks during the bitter fights that erupted during these flower gathering trips. Alliances were made and broken with the hapless flowers as witnesses.)
3) Do not go to pick flowers from fields which have not been harvested: (Often ignored. Nature often made the prettiest flowers bloom in the greenest paddy fields. Elders who stood guarding the fields would shoo us away and we would return the moment they turned their back. There were special spies employed for this very purpose.)
4) Return before sunset: (Often obeyed. Most of us were scared cats when it came to wandering after sun set. We believed those tales about banshees, ghosts and man eater tigers. Didn’t want to take any risks)
5) Create the flower carpets early in the morning: (Most of them obeyed, I was an exception. None of them were fans of the pleasures of a blissful sleep during the early hours on a cool august morning. That too on holidays. My flower carpet would often be the last one made in our locality.)
Those were the days we were closest to nature, when we set out to explore the wilderness and beauty of the country side and bonded over hopscotch and stone games. The size of the flower carpets would increase in size starting from Attham. The largest and prettiest carpet would be made on the Thiruvonam day.
Those were the pre-cable TV era, the pre-internet era. We kids cherished nature and waited for the seasons to change in order to explore the new changes that mother earth orchestrated.
With every passing year, the bonding with nature that Onam symbolized is vanishing. Now it is more about shopping festivals, reduction sales, readymade feasts and flower carpet competitions with purchased flowers. Wild flowers are forgotten, no one even remembers them. Paddy fields are giving way to villa projects, the valleys are all filled with buildings. The myriad hues of flowers imported from neighboring states flood the Onam markets.
Instead of going in search of flowers, kids order their parents to bring the choice of their flowers to arrange the flower carpet.
I wish I could gift an Onam from my own childhood to my son so that he could understand the essence of Onam, the festival which celebrates the blooming earth, prosperity and goodness.
But yes, I can share my memories with him and make him yearn to enjoy the same kind of bonding with nature and experience the beauty of unexplored country sides.