This year, our family friend Sharrey Peters and his wife Glitty extended an invitation to us, a diverse group of Indians from Kerala, Goa and Mangalore, to a full-fledged Onam celebration at their place in Fahaheel.
Being in Kuwait for many years I had heard about Onam festival but never had an opportunity to know the importance or how majestically it was celebrated in Kerala. Since we were invited to a festival that is so alien to us Goans, I decided to do a bit of research for myself and realized that the mandatory dress code was the ‘Mundu’ for men and a ‘Mundum neriyathum’ for women.
At a designated time my wife and I arrived at the Sharrey Peters apartment. We were warmly greeted at the door with ‘Kalabham’ paste applied to our forehead. I was later told that the paste is made of sandalwood, has medicinal values and is a unique traditional way of extending a warm welcome to any guests entering the house.
While the ladies helped my wife to dress in set-mundu, Mr. Francis helped me with my Mundu dressing. It is not easy, at the same time is not too difficult since there is a procedure to follow or else there is a possibility of an embarrassment during the function if an expert does not help you in the dressing for the first time.
After exchange of pleasantries we sat down for a very exotic and traditional Onam lunch or Onam sadya, where up to 26 dishes are served on a banana leaf, and are to be consumed with the hands while sitting on the floor cross-legged. We were served with a little bit of everything. What amazed me most was the number of dishes made, the efforts that have gone in making it, and most of all was the togetherness and support each of the Keralite family that contributed in putting this herculean task together.
To pick one dish that had my taste buds rolling would be difficult as their names were too tough to remember. Here are few I have noted down. There was Rice, Parippu and Ghee, Sambhar, Kalan, Olan, Avial, Erisseri, Koottukkari, Inchithair , Puliyinchi, Pickle, Kondattam, Moru, Thoran, Upperi, Pappadam, Pazham, (Banana) Parippupradhaman (Payasam) Palada (Payasam).
We really enjoyed the afternoon among a community that is so vibrant and active in Kuwait yet we knew so little about their customs. Although Onam festival has its origin in Hindu mythology, Onam is for all people of all class and creed. Hindus, Muslims and Christians, the wealthy and the downtrodden, all celebrate Onam with equal fervor. The secular character of Onam is peculiar to this land where unity had always coexisted with diversity, especially during festivals, when people come together to celebrate life's unlimited joys. We would like to this opportunity to thank our Keralite friends for making us a part of this wonderful festivity and sharing this wonderful experience with us.
By Agnello Fernandes
Special to The Times