Pinned down by the pandemic, Kerala’s Onam revelry logs on to virtual space

Onam logs on to virtual space; art forms find a new online showcase

Onam dawns in Kerala this weekend, but celebrations are muted thanks to the lockdown and restrictions imposed owing to the Covid 19 pandemic. The state health department’s Covid-19 testing numbers, out every evening without fail, have cast a pall of gloom on the state’s population. 

Typically, when it comes to Onam, Malayalees the world over go all out in celebratory mode. The mood in Kerala during this harvest festival is all about festivity. The traditional vegetarian feast served in banana leaves, the games, art and culture events, shopping et al., are part of the festival fun. This time around, the restrictions have come in the way of celebrations. 

Pandemic scene grim; social distancing norms halt revelry

The Covid-19 patients have been on the rise over the past three months, with the per-day test positivity rate (TPR) hovering around the 14 percent levels. The situation is grim, though most people living in the state would want to go out and have fun, at least now. Onam, after all, comes only once a year, and people think that TPR figures cannot be a deterrent, at least now. 

But then, the government-imposed restrictions have to be followed, as the administration cannot afford to give up on all the excellent work done to reign in the spread of the coronavirus last year. In case you forgot, Kerala had been a successful soldier in the fight against the pandemic and had even the global media showering praise for the efforts taken to keep the virus at bay. 

Not anymore, though. Whatever be the strategy, the rising numbers paint a grim picture. The government has been forced to bring in controls to stop the spread. The restrictions that came, as a result, have made the Malayalee tone down the celebrations. However, the Department of Tourism, Kerala, has found ways to keep the festivities alive in virtual space. 

Virtual is the keyword for Onam fete this year

‘Keep off the streets, but don’t give revelry the miss’ seems to be what Kerala’s Minister for Tourism, P A Mohamed Riyas, and his team at the Department of Tourism, has been encouraging people to do, of late. The virtual space can be Kerala’s Onam playground, and they are out to prove this. 

As the Onam season has always proved to be a theatre to showcase the state’s art forms, Kerala is bringing a visual grandeur in front of Malayalees worldwide. Kerala Tourism would present video programs of the state’s near-extinct traditional art forms through different channels and social media during the festival season. 

As part of the plan, around 53 folk and traditional art forms from all the 14 districts were filmed by the Kerala Tourism Department. Most of them are largely extinct; these art forms will be aired on Malayalam TV channels between 6:30 am to 8 pm till August 23. The programs, with a duration of 30 minutes, are made available on YouTube and Facebook too. The aim is to bring together the culturally conscious Malayalees from various parts of the globe.

Pinned down by the pandemic, Kerala's Onam revelry logs on to virtual space

Virtual showcasing of art forms to help pandemic-hit artistes

According to Kerala’s Tourism Minister P.A. Mohamed Riyas, Kerala’s folk and traditional artistes have been facing financial difficulties in the past one-and-a-half years due to the pandemic-induced shutdown and inactivity. “To support them is a major aim of the online Onam celebrations. The initiative with global reach will also help the art forms to reach audiences far beyond the localities they exist,” he said. 

The art forms that are part of different districts have been selected for virtual showcasing. While the capital district of Thiruvananthapuram will host three art forms such as Vilpattu, Nangiarkoothu, and Kakarissi Natakam, the adjacent Kollam district will bring to the fore Pudava Thullal and Pakkanar Thullal. The Pathanamthitta district has bamboo music and Othara Padayani. Alappuzha will feature Kalamezhuthum Pattum, Velakali, Koladippattu, and Garudan Thookkam; Kottayam will host Naadan Pattu, Arjuna Nritham, Margam Kali, Bhadrakali Thiyyatu, and Garudan Thookkam; while Idukki will have the Adivasi dance and Aranyam Mannan Koothu.

The Ernakulam district will host Ayyappan Thiyyattu, Sopana Sangeetham, Kudukka Veena and Chavittu Natakam. Thrissur’s contribution will be Chakyar Koothu, Seethankan Thullal, Ottan Thullal, Pava Kathakali and Kolam Thullal. Palakkad district will host Tholpavakkoothu, Thirayum Poothanum, Kanyarkali, Thirakali, Adivasi Anushtana Kala and Chavittakkali.

Mappila Kalasamithi will be performing Malappuram’s folk forms. Arbana Muttu, Kappad Kolkali, Duff Muttu, Oppana, Thottam Pattu and Theyyam will be the arts from Kozhikode. From Wayanad, the videos will feature Gaddika, Korambakkali, Vatta Mudiyattam and Naadan Pattu. Kolkali, Chinakkali, Kotha Mooriyattam and Thirayattam will be the forms from Kannur. The northern-most Kasaragod district will present Eruthukali, Poorakkali, Alamikkali, and Yakshagana, besides its puppetry form Yakshagana Bommayattam.

Pinned down by the pandemic, Kerala's Onam revelry logs on to virtual space

Floral decorations too go online; prizes galore on offer

Onam is never complete without the large floral decorations in front of Kerala’s houses. The floral designs termed ‘Onappookkalam’ are also going virtual during this pandemic year. The government has lined up a virtual Global Floral Carpet design competition.

The Global Onappookkalam contest has received good responses from within the country and abroad, with Malayalees all over registering for the online event and winning prizes.   

Minister Riyas said the Global Onappookkalam contest would provide a common platform to Malayalee diaspora who cannot visit Onam-time Kerala and Keralites who miss their opportunity for social get-togethers this year to Covid-19 conditions.

“The theme of the event sends across the Onam message of unity and fraternity,” he said, adding that, “Usually, expatriate Malayalis celebrate this festival along with fellow members of their associations. This time, the Pookalam contest facilitates them to celebrate Onam with all Malayalis across the globe.” 

Malayalees are now queuing up for the virtual contest, registration for which is free. A jury constituted by the Department of Tourism will evaluate the Pookkalams and select 100 from among them. The floral designs will be uploaded onto the website of the department, Kerala Tourism said. The contestants will be awarded first, second and third prizes in two categories: individual and organization/association, it added in a statement. As many as ten consolation prizes will be given away. Further, all participants will be given a special Onam gift. 

Pinned down by the pandemic, Kerala's Onam revelry logs on to virtual space

Facebook lines up virtual Onam; showcases film on Tiger Dance artistes

It isn’t just the government that is taking Onam on to virtual space. Social media giant Facebook has also switched to revelry mode for Onam this year, riding on the belief that people can do ‘More Together than alone. Facebook has unveiled a short film to celebrate the festive spirit of Onam as part of its More Together campaign that highlights how culture has gone virtual, and communities are coming together on Facebook in unique ways during not-so-normal times.

The short film released by Facebook for Onam is based on a true story that centers on the popular folk art of Pulikkali, in which performers – painted like tigers – dance in the streets of Kerala to entertain people as part of Onam celebrations. 

The short film lines up members of the Ayyanthole Desam Pulikkali Samghataka Samithi, who had found a way to reach out to the Onam Tiger Dance fans through a live performance on Facebook last year amidst Covid-19 restrictions. This initiative had brought people from across the world closer to the traditions of Onam and enabling them to participate in the festivities virtually.

According to Avinash Pant, Director – Marketing, Facebook India, “Facebook’s core belief is that ‘People can do more together, than alone and this film captures the spirit and resilience of people and the numerous ways in which they come together on the platform in less than normal times. This was an extraordinary story, and we believed it deserved a wider canvas to showcase the power of online communities in a physically distant world.”  

And that is not all. As part of Onam celebrations, Facebook has also rolled out an AR filter that’ll take Pulikkali (Tiger Dance) to users virtually. With the filter, users will be able to wear the mask of a roaring tiger themselves and virtually place themselves at the traditional venue of Pulikkali in Thrissur. 

Pandemic or not, Onam is a not to be missed occasion for celebrations for the Keralite. With social distancing norms and restrictions in force, it is only natural that going virtual is opted for. Wishing you a happy virtual Onam

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