I’m finally starting to understand the timing of the Onam holidays. The Onam festival is ten days long with a gradual build up to the big meal on day 10. During the build up, there are various traditional rituals including the construction of colorful mandala-like floral designs made from a mosaic of different colored flower petals. There was one on the floor of the main school building and we saw others while we were about in Trivandrum. I had been thinking that the last day of Onam was all there was to the holiday but I could not have been more worng. Last evening, Sankar, who is the director of transportation at the school and our designated shepherd this week, brought us downtown to walk with the many thousands of others for viewing the explosion of colorful lights hanging from trees and shining on buildings. Music and dance performances were happening along with amusement rides, craft vendors, and all of the other trappings one would expect to encounter in a giant street carnival.
These colorful snack wagons doled out a steamed stir-fry of spicy chick peas and chopped veggies that I had to try. After a few mouthfulls, I noticed the guy to the left shaking his finger and a small pool of blood on the cutting board he was using to chop the veggies. No problem though - he simply wiped the board clean with his apron, wrapped the sliced finger in a rag, and got back to work. Glad I got my hepatitis shots!
Here's some video from the festivities:
After walking around for a while and taking in the scene, we headed back to school but not before making a sort detour to Sankar's house which was on the way home in order to drop him off as well as to meet his new 3-month old son. We were invited into his home where he lives with his wife, child, and his parents, a home that had been in the family for five generations. By inviting us in for tea, he gave us the opportunity to catch a glimpse of his real life, the one behind his employment life at school. Through the small, non-descript chained gate we stepped into an atmosphere inside was so different from the world outside. When a family lives continuously in a place for a century and a half, they leave their legacy in the atmosphere, the décor, and the items that adorn the place. They have a shrine near the front of the house where Sankar or his father perform the pujas (rituals) in the morning and evening. Though none of his family spoke English, we felt very welcome and were completely taken with the star of the show, his little baby boy whose Malayali name escapes me now (as do most Malayali words). Decorated in bangles, earrings, and decorative smudges, he was a real cutie. As spectacular as the lights were, I’ll remember our visit to Sankar’s house as the highlight of the evening.
Before the visit to the carnival, we viewed an interesting warm-up event. We can’t always predict what we’ll encounter along the road so the crowd of people gathered around a rather chaotic scene involving a swinging basket and wild splashes of golden-colored spray demanded an investigation. What we witnessed was a very rowdy game played only during Onam that reminded us a lot of Mexican piñata smashing. Tied inside a bamboo crafted triangular open box was a sack containing some money. This box hung on a rope that was suspended by a pulley and dangled and swung back and forth over the head of the contestant who was armed with a long bamboo stick for wacking open the goodie bag. The departure from the Mexican form of the game comes from the half dozen or so young men who continuously whip cups of tumeric stained, yellow water into the face of the swinger of the stick. You have to see it to truly appreciate it:
The water tossers took their job of protecting the money sack very seriously – no one broke the bag open while we were watching. The event was quite a spectacle – everyone seemed to be having a great time.