One of my friends showed me an article that was posted against Onam celebrations in his college. Now here is why I think it is absolute bullshit!
Festival are social constructs to get people to identify and relate to a singularity. They usually stem out of mythology, with roots that go deep into prehistory.
Onam celebrates the homecoming of an exiled king – Mahabali. Mythology talks about an Asura king who ruled Kerala in a time before time; a golden age [Now I find it interesting that the divine beings of Zoroastrianism are called Ahuras. Makes you wonder about religion and culture in South India before the Aryan migration]. Seems the Devas grew envious of his reign and asked Vishnu to end it. Vishnu takes the form of a Brahmin boy, Vamana, who pushed Mahabali into the underworld. But Mahabali is allowed to visit his subjects once a year and hence, Onam was born.
It is strange that many cultures have a hero who is martyred and resurrected; Prometheus and Jesus. So in a way, Easter is like Onam!
Now all this is myth. What we do know for certain is that Onam is a festival that celebrates the monsoon – the bringer of life. But one can see how the good times that come with rain are associated with the golden age of Mahabali. How Vamana is the personification of the Aryan culture which polluted Dravidian ways. And then you realise that Onam is not a Hindu festival (What is a Hindu?), it is the collective nostalgia of a people.
Yes, many popular ‘Suvarna’ symbols were adopted over time. This happens with all aspects of human behaviour; like life, our constructs evolve too. And yes, Onam is about homogeneity. But is that such a bad thing? Equality and homogeneity through cultural exchange is the very foundation of the human race.
P.S In The Malabar Rebellion, M. K. Gangadharan talks about how Nairs and Menons preferred to join Annie Besant’s movement and not the Indian National Congress since members of the INC considered them to be of lower caste. Mahabali was neither Nair nor Menon, but I am pretty sure he wouldn’t ask for SC/ST status either.