Despite the physical distance between India and America, cultural traditions hold strong. Last weekend, the local community center transformed into Kerala, India. At least from 10 – 3, it felt as though I was amongst my extended family in our hometown of Cochin, in a culture entirely different from where I currently live. The decorations, smells, and clothing all reflected the typical culture of this south-Indian state. Over 40 families came together to celebrate Onam.
I woke up on Saturday morning excited for the upcoming day. I got ready and put on the traditional Kerala outfit, a long white skirt with a gold border, and a colored blouse. My hair was placed in a simple half-pony, with jasmine flowers pinned in as well. My mom and I drove to the building, where the celebration would be held (my dad and brother had left much earlier to help set up). As soon as we entered, I realized that the day would be just like my faint memories of Onam in Kerala. There was a beautifully designed pookalum in the corner with a golden lamp next to it; women were hustling around in the back kitchen, organizing the various food items brought by each family; traditional Kerala music was playing in the back ground; I truly felt as if I had entered Kerala during the Onam festivities.
As I talked with my friends, frequently switching between English and various Indian languages, I looked around for my dad who should have already been there. Finally I found him back-stage dressed as King Mahabali. I have to say it was a bit of shock seeing my dad in a fake mustache and crown with the typical outfit of a Keralite man. After getting pictures with my transformed dad, the programs began. As a dancer, I performed a dance in the classical Indian Dance style of Kuchipudi, and I learned a traditional Keralite folk dance to perform at the celebration. I really enjoyed the piece because it gave me a taste for my own cultural heritage. Apart from my dance, I got to hear various traditional songs and stories describing the importance of this festival.
Once the programs had finished, it was time for the long-awaited Onam Sadya. Banana leaves were set on tables and people walked around with the various food items, serving those who were eating. I ate to my heart’s content getting seconds and thirds for most of the food. The food, in my mind, really brought the celebration together. The various flavors in my mouth reminded me of my visits to my grandmother’s house in India and the joy of being surrounded by my family and those I love.
Heritage and traditions stick with individuals long after they leave their home. Even those who have moved to an entirely different country, continue their celebrations to get a feeling of their true home. So no matter where you are, you can get the traveling experience by attending festivities of various cultures and countries. To all of you who celebrate this festival, happy Onam!