Wednesday, August 29, 2007

No, Onam Isn’t Over Yet: Today Is Chatayam

It seems I am a bit out of touch with traditions of Kerala (for a person who claims to be an expert on all things Malayali). However, my knowledge about the traditions of Kerala is more than made up by my wife’s who studied in Kerala. It seems Onam isn’t confined to a single day’s celebration, but is a virtual procession of festivals that showcase Kerala’s culture in gourmet, performing arts, martial arts, ancient traditions, etc. I can only wonder how this birthplace of mine can sustain and keep up all these traditions without break and without much confusion.

Those wondering how we do this – this fact I say with pride – is that Malayalis are a people who are brought up on the oral tradition of learning. Most of the wisdom and culture of Kerala is passed from one generation to the other through oral recitation and pithy sayings. What is most amazing is that the old traditions of Kerala are followed and kept up by Malayalis everywhere. That’s why a Malayali can hold a lot of information in his head, and can multi-task so well in the demanding work environment of today.

Take for example Kerala architecture. The master architect of a Kerala house – also called a Perumthachan – doesn’t need drawings or a calculator. He draws a concept in his mind and can execute it from memory. For calculating he uses a very advanced system of mental calculation which even has a multiplication table for 0.125. I have seen this happening when our house in Kerala was being built. The traditional architect would tell his assistants the dimensions from memory and the complicated woodwork for the roof of a Kerala house would be constructed without a fault.

I digress. While on the subject of Onam my wife who is familiar with the traditions and customs of Kerala tells me that today is Chatayam, the third day of Onam. According to her Onam extends for at least a week after the actual day of the festival. Thus the day preceding Onam is called Uthradam, to be succeeded by the big day Thiruvonam.

The day after Thiruvonam is called Avittam, which was yesterday. And after Avittam comes Chatayam - today - the third day of Onam. Chatayam is followed by Puthirithathi and then by Uthrithathi. That makes it six days, and there is more, about which I have more to learn from wifey. It seems all these days have their own particular ritual of celebration and feasting.

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