Traveling has been an integral part of my life. Coming from an Army background, I was destined to move from one place to another and this chain hasn’t stopped yet. The only difference is earlier I had no choice but today I enjoy traveling places of my choices 🙂
I was in fourth grade, when my father was transferred to Kerala (Cochin to be more precise) from Udaipur. Cochin is a beautiful place near Arabian Sea; however I was able to appreciate its beauty only when I grew up a little older. For the first time I asked our father, “Why did we come here? I want to go back”. Though we had traveled quite a few places before, but Cochin was altogether a different place for a north Indian who was coming to south India (with his family) for the first time. The language, the food, and people everything was new for us and we had to familiarize ourselves to this new surrounding.
Making ourselves accustomed was not easy. We had to face our own obstacles. It’s been said that children should feel comfortable in their surrounding and language was our biggest barrier for the first year in Cochin. We couldn’t mingle with other children as we were not great in speaking English and we had no idea what Malayalam (the regional language of Keralites) was and this made our school life tough. But slowly and steadily things started changing. Children have an upper hand when it comes to grasping any language and we were no exceptions. With in a year our classmates (who earlier used to make fun of us) were talking and listening to us and we were playing, dancing and singing together.
After spending three years in Cochin, when the time came to bid adieu I had treasured memories of this place in my heart and one of those was celebrating “Onam” in school.
Onam is one of the most auspicious festivals of Kerala (celebrated for ten days) and it commemorates the homecoming of their renowned king Mahabali. Mahabali was a legendary king and Kerala witnessed its golden era during his reign. People were happy and prosperous under his rule and this made Indra (the king of gods) jealous of him. He was scared that one day with his righteous qualities Mahabali will become the king of Gods and two Indras can create imbalance. So with other gods he approached Lord Vishnu who promised to help them. In order to help gods, Vishnu assumed the form of a dwarf: Vamana and requested Mahabali to give him three steps of land to live in and Mahabali didn’t disappoint Vamana and promised him the same. Hearing this Vamana enlarged himself and became so huge that he could step from heaven to earth, and earth to the lower worlds in two simple steps. King Mahabali unable to fulfill the promise of three steps of land to the Lord offered his head for the third step and Vamana placed his foot on King’s head and sent him down to the Patala. Being worshiped however by Mahabali and his ancestor Prahlada, he approved to them the kingdom of Patala. However, as Mahabali was equivalent to Indra, he had to wait until the next Yuga where he would be the Indra. Meanwhile, with the grace of Vishnu, Mahabali visited his people on an annual basis. Thus, it is this visit of Mahabali that is celebrated as Onam every year and people celebrate it in a grand way to tell their king that they are happy.
A day before Onam we had to clean our classes and make a design for flower Rangoli known as Pookalam and on the first day of Onam, we were asked to bring lots of flowers from home and decorate the design and our teacher’s used to help us in this task. Another popular feature of Onam was the Boat Race where hundreds of Boatmen used to row the decorative boats and we too never stopped ourselves from cheering them with full enthusiasm. The kind of fun we had and the energy and zeal with which we celebrated this festival will be remembered for my whole life.