This Article is From Sep 14, 2016

Why Amit Shah Was Trolled For Vamana Jayanti Wishes On Onam

It's Onam. That time of the year when Malayalis in any part of the world pull out their kasava sarees and mundus with gold work and celebrate. Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan's suggestion that government employees must not waste time celebrating during office hours was greeted with many frowns. It did not stop Onam celebrations.  

"Onam is one day we live like a true Keralite," 24-year-old Yaseen Shereef told me at Thiruvananthapuram's Technopark a few days ago. With his colleagues he sang Onam songs about Kerala's culture and the King Mahabali, a mythological figure lovingly placed at the centre of Onam tales. 

Mr Shereef is not a Hindu, but his joyous celebration of the festival is not an exception. Onam has evolved as a festival of Kerala not of a community or religion.

So when BJP chief Amit Shah greeted people on the eve of Thiruvonam - the final and most important day of Onam celebrations - for "Vamana Jayanti," he was trolled with the hashtag #PoMoneShaji, which roughly translates to "Go Away Son Shaji" - a rip-off from a blockbuster Malayalam movie starring Mohanlal. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan demanded an apology from Amit Shah, calling his greeting an "insult to Keralites and their culture".
Why Mr Shah was attacked has to be seen in the context of an article written a few days ago by an RSS man, who described Onam as the victory of Vamana, an incarnation of Vishnu, over Mahabali.

Mythology has it that King Mahabali was a just king who was deceived by Vamana, who wanted to annex the king's territory. Vamana as a small Brahmin boy asked the king for land equivalent to his three steps. When the king agreed, Vamana grew to gigantic proportions and there was no land left for his third step. The king, who had given his word, offered him his head but sought that he be allowed to visit his people every year. Onam celebrations welcome Mahabali.

"That's the writer's personal opinion. We don't have to respond to everything," a BJP leader told me, laughing when I asked him about the RSS article glorifying Vamana over Mahabali. But they are being forced to respond after their party chief's tweet. 

If the BJP wants to make real inroads in Kerala, this may not be the best way. O Rajagopal, a respected politician who won the party its first ever seat in the Kerala assembly this year, did not benefit from the Hindu votes alone.

Keralites are not known for extravagant celebration of festivals, but Onam is an exception. For everyone. People participate in processions, eat elaborate meals on banana leaves,  all of it together. Even at a famous Vamana temple in Kochi, people greet each other for Onam and not Vamana Jayanti.   

The Onam narrative is protected zealously in the state. The state's Left chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan had announced that the annual extravaganza of floats down in Kerala's capital, showing Kerala's cultural tradition would be done away with this year. Some suggested this could have been because of the state of  the treasury.

But he soon revoked his decision. 

On Onam, a harvest festival, a vegetarian meal is served on banana leaves. Towards north Kerala, a helping of meat, many times beef, may be added to the Onam Sadya. 

As we celebrate this cultural confluence today, here's wishing everyone Happy Onam.

(Sneha Mary Koshy is NDTV's Kerala correspondent.)

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