Onam celebrations in Kerala this year extend from 13-15 September, with the grand second day of Thiruvonam falling on 14th September. But much to the disappointment of an average Hindu, Kerala CM Pinari Vijayan from CPI(M) decided to issue a notification that Onam shouldn’t be celebrated in government offices during work hours. Quoting the CM’s words from this news report,
“It is not appropriate and proper that such festivities, including laying of ‘pookalams’ (floral carpets), are held at offices during office hours. Not only Onam, for that matter, any festival celebrations should be held without affecting the functioning of office work. In this matter, government would ensure its intervention.”
In Kerala, Onam is celebrated as a harvest festival and also to mark the return of benevolent Asura King Mahabali to his kingdom. It is a common practice on all festivals to decorate the work place and wear appropriate dresses accordingly, as a mark of respect to the existing culture of that place. Offices / work places are decorated everywhere in the world on major festivals of the local culture, and everyone partakes in the festivities.
This inappropriate statement by Kerala CM looks more like nitpicking on a Hindu festival. Imagine if a state government in US issues a notice to not celebrate Christmas during work hours or not decorate the Government work places during Christmas celebrations? This notification on Onam is an assault on the roots of a culture, on expression of cultural joy by citizens of a region.
Onam – celebration of King Mahabali or Bhagwan Vishnu?
Just recently, there have been news reports that an article in Malayalam newsweekly magazine Kesari (linked to RSS) has argued that the Onam festival marks the birth of Vamana, Bhagwan Vishnu’s incarnation, and not the annual return of king Mahabali to see his people. This was quickly picked up by mainstream media as the official RSS view, and combined with a tweet yesterday from BJP President Amit Shah wishing everyone on ‘Vamana Jayanti’, it kicked up a perfect storm in secular & left-liberal circles.
The fact that the festival of Vaman Jayanti which is celebrated in states like Gujarat and MP does indeed fall on 13th September, and the fact that Shah issued a ‘Happy Onam’ tweet today (the main day of Onam celebrations), were swept under the carpet – even by so-called polished, thinking Congressmen like Shashi Tharoor. Why spoil the opportunity for a good outrage!
Leaders of both the CPI(M) and Congress came out all guns blazing against Amit Shah’s tweet and accused him of ‘imposing upper caste hegemony’.
Of course, no one in media questioned the Congress and CPM leadership on how celebrating the birth of one of Bhagwan Vishnu’s avatar (Vamana) shows ‘upper caste’ leanings – don’t all Hindus (irrespective of caste,creed, region) worship Bhagwan Vishnu? Do these people even know that King Mahabali is a descendant of the Brahmin sage Kashyapa, so going by their casteist logic, ‘Brahminical forces’ (as RSS/BJP are often accused) should be supporting Mahabali?
Bharat is a vast country and there are various aspects of a festival and religious stories, and celebrations differ from region to region. While Hindus in Kerala celebrate Onam as the mark of king Mahabali returning to visit his land, the same people worship Vamana too. Thrikkakara temple, one of the temples dedicated to Bhagwan Vamana is situated in Kerala. BJP Kerala State president Kummanam Rajasekharan says it best, “Vamana jayanti is complementary and supplementary to Onam celebrations and not contradictory.”
Both Vamana and Mahabali belonged to the same culture and same texts. None of them came from outside texts. To get a nuanced view of the popular reason for celebrating Onam, one can refer to this site – Onam is not about celebrating either King Mahabali OR Vamana…both are cherished!
Raksha Bandhan and King Mahabali
Interestingly, the story of Vamana and Mahabali has many facets and it is even said that the festival of Rakshabandhan can be traced back to their story. Going by one such source :
“According to the Hindu scriptures Bhagavata Purana and Vishnu Purana, after Bhagwan Vishnu won the three worlds from King Bali, he was asked by Bali that Bhagwan Vishnu live in his palace, a request Bhagwan Vishnu granted. Bhagwan Vishnu’s wife, Devi Lakshmi did not like the palace or his new found friendship with Bali, and preferred that her husband and she return to Vaikuntha. So she went to Bali, tied a Rakhi and made him a brother to her. Bali asked her what gift she desired. Devi Lakshmi asked that Bhagwan Vishnu be freed from the request that he live in Bali’s palace. Bali consented, as well accepted her as his sister.”
Many people chant this mantra on the auspicious day of Rakshabandhan while tying rakhi / raksha sutra :
येन बद्धो बलि राजा दानवेन्द्रो महाबल:
तें त्वाम अभिबद्धामी रक्षमाचल्माचल:
(Yen baddho bali raja, danvendro mahabalah
Ten tvam abhibaddhami, rakshamachal, machalah)
Meaning – “By tying this rakhi (wristband) onto your wrist, I am binding you just like the powerful and generous King Bali was bound by it. O wristband, do not get displaced.”
Hinduphobes Lap Up the ‘Controversy’
The various leftist articles floating on the controversy creating the narrative of ‘Hindutvaization of Onam by RSS’ like this one by The News Minute, are not only hilariously making it a caste issue but also trying to alienate non-Brahmins from the Hindu fold by peddling the debatable Aryan invasion theory per which Vedic ‘establishment’ (today’s alleged upper castes) invaded Bharat and subjugated the natives (today’s alleged lower castes).
The truth is that Hindus don’t deny the greatness of Mahabali in any way. We embrace all our religious & historical icons with fondness, and leave it to individual devotees to like one more than the other. That’s the beauty of Hindu dharma!
(Featured Image Credit : festivals.iloveindia.com)