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The day of celebrations and the sadya feast is upon Malayalis at home and abroad as the conclusion of Onam, the 10-day harvest festival, falls on September 4. As Onam increasingly becomes a nuclear family affair in India, Malayalis in other countries cash in on the nostalgia and make it a grander affair.
Onam in UAE
Dubai-based Emirates airline has launched an air cargo called Rosy for Onam so that the plane can bring in flowers, vegetables for the festive feast. A total of 2,200 tonne vegetables were exported from India to foreign countries, according to Mathrubhumi.
In UAE, where there are an estimated one million Malayalis, retailers are stocking up on the fruits and vegetables that would be needed to prepare the Onam sadhya, the traditional feast served on banana leaves. The feast includes pappadam pazham, upperi (banana chips), sarkara upperi (crisp banana chips coated with jaggery), kootukari, avial, pachadi, banana halwa, and pazham nurukku.
Onam is now more of a Gulf festival than a Kerala festival, Salim MA, director of LuLu Group, which caters to a large section of the community, told Gulf News. Typically, Onam celebrations go on for a couple of months in the region as various groups of expatriates get together during the weekends.
The LuLu Group, which sells over 350 tonnes of fruits and vegetables during the festival each year, also imported banana fruits and leaves via the sea route this year. They tied up with Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority of India for temperature-controlled shipment of bananas in special refrigerated containers, Gulf News reported.
A number of restaurants in UAE, such as Nalukettu at Dubai Grand Hotel, Kolam restaurant in Sharjah, and Calicut Notebook in Abu Dhabi, are also offering Onam sadhya on September 4.
Stores are also stocking up on the traditional Kerala sari for women and kasavu mundu for men as they are in high demand. “Our stores have been stacked up with ethnic Kerala sarees imported directly from weavers of Kuthampully in Palakkad. Readymade kasavu skirts and blouses for girls are also in good demand,” V Nandakumar, chief communication officer at LuLu Group, said to the publication.
Air India Express also launched 40 additional flights between Sharjah and India on August 22 to facilitate expatriates flying to Kerala for the festival. These flights, which are being operated from Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi and Kozhikode in Kerala, as well as New Delhi, will be operational until September 4.
Oman Celebrates Onam
Expat group Malayalam Wing of the Indian Social Club in Muscat is planning to serve Onam sadya to more than 500 labourers for free. Also, families who are not able to buy imported flowers use sawdust and colour powders for the floor decoration pookalam, which are being sold at stores now.
Celebrations in Other Countries
In the United Kingdom, Onam celebrations gained the ambience of the backwaters. About 5,000 spectators came to watch the snake boat race, which featured 22 team of rowers, in the reservoir called Draycote Water in Rugby of Warwickshire.
The race was perhaps the first outside Kerala to feature chundan vallams (snake boats). “We transformed a few dragon boats that are generally used for competitions into snake boats,” property developer Noby Jose, who led the winning team, told The Times of India. “They were named after the villages of Kuttanad and some of the participants were even singing vanchipattu songs as they inched forward. We were thrilled to see the huge turnout.”
Noby and team are set to fly to the United States for international vadamvali malsaram (a traditional Onam game of tug of war), which will be held in Chicago on September 4. Malayalis from countries like Kuwait, Qatar and Canada are expected to participate in the event.
A pookalam made in the UK has its own distinct flowers — lilies, roses, blue bells and hotlips — instead of the flowers usually found in Indian backyards.
In Tanzania, Onam is going to be celebrated with a lot of games from northern part of Kerala on September 3. The games will also have the folk art pulikali (play of the tigers), in which the performers usually paint themselves and dance to represent tiger hunting. “Our African friends are also joining us for it,” Rajesh Kanjirakadan, who works as a technical manager in a private company, told the TOI.
Meanwhile, New York is going to see the Maveli Act, based on the king in whose honour Onam is celebrated. Legend has it that the benevolent king, who was revered by his subjects in Kerala, is allowed to return to the earth one day a year – the day of Onam. Sibu Nair, who works in University of Buffalo in New York, recounted to TOI how they have had Americans dressed up as Maveli quite a few times. “Not just the audience, the one who played the Maveli also enjoyed it quite a bit. The only difference was that he didn’t have a paunch like his Kerala counterparts,” he said.
In Finland, the Maveli hands out presents to children in the neighbourhood, like Santa Claus. For Onam Sadhya, the 150-strong Malayali community get together and cook the delicacies. Vimi, an IT professional who lives in Finland, said to TOI: “We don’t get all the Kerala vegetables here and so we compensate with the local ones. For instance, the Finnish vegetable lantu is used instead of yam in avial.”