Shashi Tharoor is known for his multifaceted identity as a politician, author, former diplomat, and statesman. However, there is a side to him that often remains hidden from the limelight—his unwavering connection to his native culture and to the traditions of his home state, Kerala.
On the occasion of Onam, OT reached out to Tharoor to share his memories of the festival and how he celebrates it.
"Onam holds profound significance for me, serving as the quintessential festival within my 'marunadan Malayali' family—akin to Christmas for Keralites.
"Even during my tenure at the United Nations, the camaraderie among Malayali colleagues in cities like New York, Geneva, and Vienna would manifest during Onam as we'd gather, each contributing a dish, to fondly reminisce about our homeland. Now, having returned to India and representing Kerala's capital in Parliament, the essence of Onam has deepened further. This occasion encapsulates our heritage, unity, and aspirations in their fullest form.
"As a representative of the people, I'm invited to various Onam festivities, ensuring I'm never alone in Thiruvananthapuram. For years, I've proudly sponsored the Onam lunch at the Sree Chitra Poor Home orphanage in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, occasionally joining the children there," said Tharoor.
"An indelible memory stems from my wife and I visiting immediately after our 2010 wedding, where the children constructed a traditional swing for us—an image I hold dear. Additional jubilant Onam events occur at Residents' Associations, Old Age Homes, and diverse community gatherings spanning several days. The culmination arrives with the grand procession through Thiruvananthapuram's streets at the conclusion of Onam—a spectacle I ensure not to miss.
"The extraordinary inclusivity of Onam captivates me the most. Remarkably, it stands as perhaps the sole Indian festival embraced by Hindus, Muslims, and Christians alike, devoid of any exclusivity to a particular community. This shared sense of cultural ownership transforms Onam into more than just a festival; it becomes a testament to the finest facets of Kerala's ethos. It is a celebration of our culture and the yearning for comprehensive well-being, security, and happiness.
"It's worth mentioning that the concept of a "Keralite maha-belly" owes much of its proportions to the lavishness characterising the sadhyas we Malayalis indulge in. Reflecting on my expanding waistline, I find solace in being in Europe this year, allowing me to forego the Onam sadhya—a feast that enriches participants' culinary experiences but often adds inches to the waistline!"
Onam is a harvest festival in India, with its epicentre in Kerala. The event unfolds over several days, each distinguished by a unique name, importance, and festive customs. The jubilant spirit doesn't end with the culmination of Onam; instead, it extends beyond, encompassing post-Onam festivities that persist for over ten days.
Onam takes place in the month of Chingam, occurring from August to September according to the Gregorian calendar. This festival is a tribute to the benevolent and dearly cherished demon King Mahabali, a figure woven into Kerala's cultural fabric. As per belief, King Mahabali's spirit graces the land during this festive period, adding an extra layer of significance to the celebrations.
This year, Onam festivities began on August 20 and Thiruvonam (the most auspicious day during the Onam festival) will fall on August 29.