Celebrating Autumn with the Hindu Festival of Onam

I have always loved autumn.  Something about this season has always seemed to me to be a celebration of family and community. From reuniting with school families to gathering as a community to cheer on our local football team, I just love it all. Since marrying my husband I officially have a holiday that celebrates the beginning of autumn and is the most beautiful kickoff to my favorite season!

You see my husband was born in India in the state of Kerala, but has live most of his life in Kansas. The Indian culture is rich with beautiful festivals and traditions, and the festival of Onam is no exception. Onam is a Hindu festival celebrated primarily by the Malayali people and is the official state festival of Kerala. Onam celebrates the summer harvest in the state of Kerala and while it is a Hindu holiday it is also celebrated by the Christians of Kerala.

In India Onam is a ten day festival that includes a parade called Athachamayam, dance events, Pookalam which are beautiful floral arrangements, prayers, and always a shared meal called Onam Sadya. Here in Wichita the many members of the Indian community, both Christian and Hindu, gather to celebrate Onam Sadya on what is always a warm Sunday afternoon in September.

When I began attending Onam I was mesmerized by the beautiful saris that the women were wearing, the delicious food that was lovingly prepared, and the beautiful floral arrangement that surrounded the Nilavilaku lamp.  In those days when the traditions were new to me, the things I appreciated the most were the aesthetics, the food, the colors, and sounds.

Since having my children, Onam means so much more to me than it had before. I watch as my in-laws introduce my children to a little piece of what is a very rich and vibrant culture.  I love seeing my mother-in-law introduce my son to new foods, because as in many cultures food is surely how she shows love. It warms my heart to hear my father-in-law explain the lighting of the Nilavilaku lamp as my children watch in wonder. Seeing the pride in the eyes of the parents as the many first-born American Indian children sing the songs of their parents homeland is a gift. I now see Onam as a time for fellowship.  A gathering of a family that may have not been born of blood but rather a shared culture to gather together and bring a little bit of India to Wichita, KS.  And that is exactly what autumn is about to me that sense of family and community. 

So this year on September 10th we will again gather together to celebrate Onam as a community and a family.  

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