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Nuns’ Onam dance sparks debate in Kerala 

Kochi: Kerala’s harvest festival Onam has turned into a cultural battleground since 2016.

While the festival has been celebrated by virtually all communities as one of the secular milestones of Malayali culture, there is now an attempt to give Onam a distinctly (upper-caste) Hindu flavor.

So, as Keralites of all shades sat down to sadhya (banquet) on August 4, a video of a group of Catholic nuns performing the thiruvathirakkali (a dance form) sparked a virulent debate on social media platforms.

For the uninitiated, the thiruvathirakkali or kaikottikali is a dance performed by women – a prominent part of Onam celebrations in the state. Women traditionally dress in the kasavu mundu, and dance in a circle to songs praising the glory and prosperity of the state.

In the video doing the rounds on Onam day, however, 10 nuns are seen dressed in the traditional white habit and black head scarf, performing the dance around a pookkalam (floral carpet).

This seemingly harmless 45-second video was picked up by supporters of the Hindu Right, who criticized it as an attempt to appropriate a ‘Hindu’ festival.

“Kerala Church is in a spree to appreciate everything Hindu,” wrote one user on Twitter while sharing the video.

Others saw this as a “dangerous trend,” substantiating their “conclusions” by posting images of a pookkalam with an image of Jesus at the centre.

“Christians will appreciate Hindu rituals at the beginning, they will soon claim it as theirs,” others claimed. They saw this as a “grand strategy of the Church” to hijack “everything that is Hindu.”

“Gradually these missionaries replace shiva with yeshu n make it yeshuvithara kalli,” wrote one user.

Even a columnist with the publication Swarajya (self rule) got into the act, writing, “Onam lamps with a cross on top, priests dressed in mundu n w a tilak, church elephants, Jesus Suprabhatam…soul vultures are everywhere.”

However, right-wing efforts at re-describing the narrative of Onam have not gone down well with many others. In 2016, for instance, BJP National President Amit Shah posted wishes for Vamana Jayanthi instead of Onam.

Following Shah’s tweet last year, for instance, Malayalis of all shades went after him with the hashtag #PoMoneShaji, and warned him not to meddle with the Onam legend.

Even Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan got involved, calling for an apology from Shah.

“By eulogising Vamana and denigrating Mahabali, BJP national president Amit Shah has humiliated Kerala and our festival Onam. The belief behind Onam is of equality and egalitarianism and it is a festival celebrated by all cutting across caste, creed, religion and other barriers,” Pinarayi said in a statement.

On Onam day too, Twitter users reacted sharply to the attempts to question the nuns’ celebrations.

Reacting to Shefali Vaidyar’s tweet on the nuns video, journalist Anna M M Vetticad asked why the BJP was angry that Onam was celebrated in Kerala across people’s religious preferences.

“Why is #BJP-#RSS so angry that all communities in #Kerala celebrate #Onam? Are they jealous or genuinely incapable of understanding harmony?” she wrote.

Others like senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor and Rahul Easwar also celebrated the video, calling it a reflection of Kerala’s “pluralist culture.”

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4 Responses to Nuns’ Onam dance sparks debate in Kerala

  1. chhotebhai

    It is most unfortunate that some are mixing up religion and culture. I have many Malayali Christian friends outside Kerala, and all of them celebrate Onam in different ways. In fact I make it a point to wish all of them Shubham Onam

  2. Thakapan Vaidhyar

    Those nuns are seems to be girls hailing from Kerala. Thiruvathira is a beautiful flock dance prefered by any girl of Kerala to be modelled after Naiyar girls. Unfortunately Syrian liturgy is a stiff mass guidelined by some neurotics, seminary professors. They have no chance to dance and stretch rhythmically in their prayer like the saints or Jewish psalmists.
    Usually in cultures People dance with joy in giving thanks. It is a human expression owe, thanks joy etc. . In some of the retreat centres participants are made to dance like King David dancing in front of the ark, who could not care even his surroundings. Kerala people has stigma for spontaneous human rhythmic movements. It very difficult to move them, stubborn, stiff necked people.

    A miracle worker (deliverance minister) Called Jeremiah, I think an African by shape (check in YouTube: “prophet Jeremiah secret exposed in public – why I dance”). In his ministry he dance Like anything with reason Lord is great and telling why he dance.
    Let them inculturate the system of rhythm in prayer which was unknown to Kottayam seminary liturgy professors.

  3. A. S. Mathew

    The high caste will be delighted to see as some blind gullible people rolling over the food waste of the high caste in Karnatata for the healing of their skin problem. None of the high caste will roll over the waste food for healing but only the low caste people.

    The high caste used to enjoy serving the food by bare-breasted low caste women in the olden days, what a delightful feast it was?

    The high caste will be feeling high on the toe if other people move away from their path while they walk through a road like the olden days.

    The high caste, from where you got your pants-shirt-suit and neck tie? You all adopted from the western nations, the Christian nations.

    The high caste holding big jobs, the English language you learned from the western world, the Christian countries.

    Onam is not anybody’s monopoly. Everybody has the right to eat what they like and dance the way they like to dance. If the Hindus are celebrating the Christmas, the Christians are very happy for their participation. Celebrate the festivals of other religions which can create more harmony in Kerala, thus Kerala will be leading in the nation for religious harmony.

    The north Indian deadly virus penetrating to Kerala is very dangerous like the invention of ” Vamana Jayanthi”, let him dance with Vamana and enjoy that.

  4. Mathew M.V.

    ONAM is a Festival of EQUALITY.I am 67 years old and from the 4th year onwards I remember ONAM. I got Meals in Leafs and Full Meals with Payasam.During that time there is nothing to eat only Trapioca.Onam is celebrated by every one all Kerala People it is not for any Caste,Creed or Religion.Every body celebrated together and the Story tells us also this.I think all this Disputes are unnecessar and not Heathy. People Know HOW to celebrate FESTIVALS.Please Let People to CELEBRATE and Enjoy with a RELIGIOUS POLITICAL HARMONY.

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