Onam, the harvest festival of Kerala, is celebrated with great pomp across the state, but this time around festivities will be the last thing on people’s minds as they come to grips with the devastation caused by the unprecedented deluge that claimed 231 lives.
The festival commemorates the return of mythical demon king Mahabali to see his beloved subjects at the beginning of ‘Chingam’, the first month of the Malayalam Calendar.
Kerala blames TN for massive floods, says sudden release of water from Mullaperiyar Dam led to deluge
Kerala Floods: 'Lower water level of Mullaperiyar dam', panel on disaster management directs Tamil Nadu
The mythical ruler is traditionally welcomed with a carpet of flowers, popularly known as pookalam, in front of houses, and ‘Onam Sadyas’ (feasts) and people turn out in new attire.
The fest is celebrated with great joy and enthusiasm by people across communities.
However, in the fortnight leading to the festival, which falls tomorrow, the state has been savaged by the worst rains in a century leading to several people being killed, houses destroyed and over ten lakh lodged in relief camps.
Water is yet to recede in several places and hundreds of houses are still submerged.
“No flowers, no lights...you see a pall of gloom everywhere,” P Mohandas, a Kathakali artiste, said.
“Mahabali will see the sufferings of his people hit by rains and floods instead of the usual fanfare associated with the biggest festival of Keralites as he visits their rain ravaged homes on Thiruvonam day tomorrow,” he said.
Mohandas, hailing from flood-hit village of Mulakkulam North in Piravom in Ernakulam district, said many of the houses don’t have the ‘flower mats’ (pookalam) in their courtyard to welcome Mahabali.
All sectors, including tourism, business, art and culture, have been hit by the deluge last week.
Office-bearers of the Kerala Chamber of Commerce and Industry said the floods had severely affected Onam business.
“Many businessmen in places like the rain ravaged town of Aluva have suffered heavy losses. Some of them have lost their entire stock in the floods.
The magnitude of loss for business community in other parts of the state is also very high,” Chamber secretary R Sreenivasan said.
The situation is no different in some areas which were not affected by the rain fury with people coming forward to offer money for the relief fund instead of splurging it on the festivities.
“We are not celebrating Onam and preparing Onam sadya, the grand meal, this time.
Instead, we have decided to contribute money meant for it to buy relief material for affected people. Such is the sufferings of the people hit by floods,” an employee of a private bank said.
Sreenivasan said they were assessing the total loss suffered by their members. “It will take some time,” he said.
Murugan, a flower vendor at the bustling Chalai market in Thiruvanathapuram, Kerala’s capital, said the unprecedented rains and floods had washed away all the “colours of Onam.”
“It is during Onam that we get the best business in a year. We plan several things calculating the profit which we get during this season. But, everything has turned upside down this time,” he said.
“Only very few takers are there for flowers as there is no onam festivities in the wake of floods. Schools, colleges and government offices have cancelled celebrations. Nobody is interested in laying floral carpets,” he said.
Many florists in the city have bought only very few quantities of flowers from neighbouring states in the wake of dull business.
Balachandran, a city-based caterer, said he has suffered a huge setback in business as a number of offices, resident associations and individuals had cancelled bookings for the Onam feast, ordered as part of the festivities.
“The bookings for wedding feasts have not been affected much. But, mass cancellations of orders for onam feasts from IT hub, Technopark and government and private offices are a worrying factor,” he said.
Though the downpour had not affected the capital city much, many have cancelled orders from firms as they decided to do away with the celebrations in the wake of deluge, he said.
Another private caterer said they had received orders from banks, IT firms and other offices for supplying 3,500 ‘Onam sadyas’ from August 17-26, which got cancelled due to the present situation.
A prominent vegetarian hotelier in Thiruvanathapuram, specialising in ‘sadya’, said they have also been hit by a lot of cancellations due to the flood situation.
“Many people have cancelled the orders as they want to donate the amount to the flood relief fund,” he said.
The heavy rains and floods have claimed 231 lives since August 8 and more than 10.40 lakh people are still in relief camps across the state.