Indian Malayalees celebrate ‘Onam’ in Philippines
By Santosh Digal
Manila: Indian Malayalees living in the Philippines on August 28 celebrated Onam, one of the biggest and most awaited festivals, with great joy and festivity.
“It is an important occasion to gather, create and celebrate our unique Malayali identity and the cultural diversity in the Philippines through Onam celebration,” Father Jiju George Arakkathara, president of the Philippines Malayali Association (PhilMA), told Matters India on August 28.
PhilMA, an informal group among Indian Malayalis hailing from different religions and living in the Philippines, organized the event at Holy Family Catholic Parish, Quezon City. The Philippines has the largest Catholic population in Asia.
“Onam is a major cultural feast of Kerala, so close to the hearts of Malayalees all over the world. Through Onam celebration here in the Philippines, we wish to share, enrich and re-live our distinct cultural experience with Malayalees who are living in the Philippines, along with other Indian friends and local Filipinos,” Arakkathara said.
The event began with a prayer “Loka Samastha sukhinobavandu” (Let the world be fine).
“We all prayed together focusing on the world that it would be free from sorrow, pain, sickness, and sadness and would be fine for all,” said Salesian Father Binu Scaria, who led the prayer service.
A day-long event had a series of interesting activities such as arrival (Onapookkalam) with Indian style, Onam Anusmaranam, Onam games, and cultural programs. And of course, one of the main highlights of the festival was to have “Onasadya,” with a nine-course meal serving ten to thirteen dishes on a banana leaf, among others.
Several Indian Malaylees performed Thiruvathira Kali (a traditional dance of Kerala), snake-boat races, pookalams (flower rangolis), singing folk songs and dancing both classical and folk, Pulikali (the dance of tigers) which are considered as key parts of Onam celebrations.
The venue was well decorated and a common ground with flower arrangements (pookalams) of intricate patterns symbolizing a welcome for the arrival of the king Mahabali. All activities were organized in Malayalam.
Some men and women wore typical Kerala dresses befitting to the occasion.
This year, PhilMA held the Onam celebration on August 28 (national heroes’ day) as it was a holiday here in the Philippines that would enable Indians and others to attend it without much hustle. Actually this year, Onam falls on Sept 4 or 5.
Onam is a harvest festival, people of all communities come together to celebrate the day with enthusiasm and joy. It is believed that on the day of Onam, the spirit of King Mahabali visits Kerala (God’s own country) and the festival is a preparation to welcome him. Onam, which showcases the culture and heritage of Kerala state, was declared as the national festival of Kerala in 1961.
It is believed that the festival originated in Vamanamoorthy Temple, in Thrikkakara, which is located around 15 km away from Kochi. Lord Vamana, the fifth incarnation of Lord Vishnu, is worshipped in this temple.
According to popular stories, the demon King Mahabali resided in the temple and it was during his era that Kerala flourished the most. He was known to be generous and giving and his reign over Kerala is considered known to be the golden era. Interestingly, the popularity of the demon King bothered the Gods and it is believed that Vamana sent Mahabali to the underworld. However, due to his good deeds and the love that his people had for him, Mahabali was allowed to visit Kerala and his people during the month of Onam.
For last 15 years, PhilMA has been organizing Onam celebration in the Philippines. Besides, other occasions of celebrations, PhilMA holds are Easter, Christmas and the Feast of St. Thomas, Apostle (July 3).
According to PhilMA’s closed or restricted Facebook page, it has some 247 members as of August 2017. Most of PhilMA members are based in Manila (capital of the country) and its adjacent areas. There are many other Malayalees who are not yet members of PhilMA either in Manila or in different parts of the country. As of now, there is no consolidated data regarding how many Malayalees are residing in the Philippines.
“We try to create as much as possible to feel, live and imbibe the spirit of Onam by celebrating it here, as we are away from our home State of Kerala,” said Father Jerry Vallomkunnel, who is pursuing his Masters’ degree in Broadcasting Journalism at the University of the Philippines, country’s premier institute.
Most of the Malayalees (from different religions) who are in the Philippines are either for business/employment or pursuing higher education (like medicine, psychology, theology to name a few) in different educational institutes, including several Catholic priests and nuns from various religious orders and dioceses, besides a large number of young boys and girls who are studying medicine.
“I really enjoyed in taking part at the Onam celebration today. It is a cultural feast. It feels as if we are in Kerala. It connects us to our cultural roots and share the same with others here with joy,” said Mathew Annet Cecil, who is pursuing her medical degree in Manila.
There were many Filipinos who witnessed the Onam celebrations.
For Judith Aquino, a parishioner of Holy Family and secretary of Parish Postal Council, who attended the celebration along with her couple of friends, said, “We are happy to witness this great cultural feast as non-Indians. It has great significance and meaning.”