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KANE Celebrates Onam

Sashi Pillai

On September 17th morning, when the golden sun was trying to peek through the gently moving endless clouds, the corridors in the Marlboro Middle School was filled with Malayali  women clad in their traditional “kasavu setmundu” with alluring golden  broad borders. So were the men folks, wearing the kasavu mundu and silk jubbas. Hordes of children in kasavu pavada and silk kurtha /pajamas gamboled around, babies brawled. A group of women and children, spearheaded by Smt. Mandaram Madhavan, were diligently giving the final touch-up to their elegantly designed  athapookkalam, dappled with a wide variety of flowers and arrays of colorful rice grain. The photographers jostled each other while capturing the best moments of the proceedings. Across from the corridor, in the school cafeteria, a group of men were unloading a wide range of freshly cooked dishes for the "Ona Sadhya" to be followed. The biggest annual gathering of the Malayalees in the New England area was happening!  New England Malayalees, irrespective of their religion, caste and creed, were getting ready to celebrate this year’s Onam, the harvest festival of Kerala.

Onam has been an integral part of the Malayali psyche for ages. The fond memories of Onam have always been nostalgic to every Keralite who resides outside their homeland. The festival cherishes the memory of the legendary King Mahabali and his prosperous reign during which, perfect communal harmony and prosperity prevailed. After being expelled by Vamana, Mahabali was allowed to visit his dear subjects once in a year. He visits his dear Kingdom during the first Malayalam month of Chingam, an occasion that fills the whole state with joy and merriment.

As usual, this year’s Onam festivities of KANE started with the ceremonial procession to welcome Mahabali to the “athapookkalam” site with  traditional Thalopoli and Panchavadyam. The conventional “deepam lighting” was done by Mrs.Lucy Vargheese, the current first lady of KANE. As in the tradition for many years, Smt. Mandaram Madhavan conveyed the Onam message, and explained the legend behind Onam to all the children gathered around her. The much-anticipated Onam feast followed this. For the past few years, the Onam feast, cooked and served by a group of dedicated men and women under the leadership of the chefs, Shri.Iyer & Shri. Prasad, has been a major attraction for KANE’s Onam celebrations. This year, KANE served food for around 800 people, which, in fact, is a record!  As in the past years, Shri. Iyer and his team delivered a great Ona sadhya, and it  was acknowledged by everyone with high esteem.

After the delicious Onam feast, the large crowd packed into the auditorium, and the curtain was raised for the business meeting and cultural event. The program started with a welcome speech from Mr.Varghese Yohanan, the president of KANE, ensued by a financial report from Mr. Suresh Abraham, the Treasurer. Shri. Balagopala Menon, an active patron  of the community, delivered the special Onam message. Mr. Dennis C. Hunt, the Mayor of Marlboro, who is an enthusiastic proponent of the local Indian community, inaugurated the cultural event. The commencement of the cultural program began with the   introductory note from Mrs. Revathi Pillai, the Arts Club Secretary of KANE.  She also introduced the masters of ceremony, Dr. Mohan Somasundaran and Mrs. Anuradha Warrier. The cultural celebrations kicked off with a very impressive  enactment of the creation of Kerala by the legendary Parasurama, followed by the ceremonial reception of Mahabali to the central stage. The next item was an inspiring presentation of a musical reminiscence, named  “Kerala Darsanam”, highlighting  a wide range of  cultural features of Kerala, like Mohiniyattam, Kadhakali, Theyyam, Kalari Payatte, Puli Kali, Chundan boat race, etc.

Embracing the traditional spirit of Kerala, the cultural program began with an emphasis on the classical art forms, and then slowly elevated the rhythm to harmonize with modern trends. The initial half of the event, which was abundant with classical dances and music, started with a  graceful Mohiniyattam recital by Subha Kannath. Subha displayed intricate clarity to the lyrical aspects and facial expressions of this Kerala’s own classical dance, and her costume was splendidly graceful!  Continuing with the classical tradition, Preetha Iyer  played a melodic sketch of Bilahari  in her Veena, demonstrating the softness and smoothness  of  "Veenaanadam". The next item was a  beautiful fusion dance by a group of young girls, Anitha, Meera, Annu, Mannu and Jelty, innovatively blending  classical elements in a  cinematic dance. How could any Onam celebration  be complete without a Thiruvathira dance? The women folks presented a memorable Thiruvathira, well coordinated by Jancy Kuriakose. This was followed by an enthralling Bharathanatyam  performance from Amritha Mangalat, the prodigious danseuse of the community. She presented the “Kurathi  dance” with remarkable grace and beauty, marked by perfect poise. Deepak Varma, a young singer from Connecticut, left the audience spell-bound by his flawless rendition of the popular Malayalam semi-classical song, “naada brahmathin sagaram” .

The second half of the program was packed with a variety of entertaining numbers, enriched with skits, cinematic dances, Garba dance, Dandia etc., and it  captivated the whole audience. The talk of the day was a couple of  music-based  funny skits showcased by the men folks, which kept the audience hee-hawing and thigh-slapping  throughout! There were numerous cinematic dances from various groups of young girls. The exquisite confluence of music, rhythm and costumes created the right ambience, and made these dances memorable and praiseworthy. The Hindi cinematic dance presented by Susan and Minnie made the crowd swaying to its beat. Mohan Somasundaran, the MC, was found dancing with a few girls and boys among the audience. A group of young men presented a very interesting “mime” farcifying the current political scenario in Kerala. Another note-worthy item was a very unconventional “Oppana” presented by group of young men led by Biju Jose. They had broken the long-standing tradition of  “Oppana”, a Muslim folk dance of Kerala, being the monopoly for girls and women! Also, several talented singers, including the New England Choristers, entertained the music aficionados with both Malyalam and Hindi songs.

The most memorable item was the “finale” of the event. The twenty minute long non-break dance extravaganza showcased the choreographic brilliance of Sheethal Dwaraka.. More than fifty participants, with ages ranging from three to fifties, took part in this event. The dance groups with dazzling costumes engrossed the audience with their spirited performances. Dancers sequentially appeared and disappeared in a rhythmic manner. The young boys and girls rocked the whole auditorium with the “pattalam” number. The women folks, in very attractive Rajasthani attire, staged an impressive Dandia dance, and the men folks with pick-axes on their hands, joined by a group of young girls with peacock like gait, presented a very appealing harvest dance. The three hour long cultural event was grandly concluded with the harmonic convergence of the finale performers in various rows, jubilantly waving at the audience. In response, there was an ecstatic standing ovation from the audience, and that marked the end of the celebrations. Just prior to the finale, Athul Dwaraka, the Secretary of KANE, delivered the vote of thanks and Mohan Somasundaran , the election officer,  declared the names of newly elected officials.

Over all, this year’s Onam celebrations of KANE emerged as a grand success. A record number of people turned out for the function. More than 120 participants took part in the cultural show, which is also a record in KANE’s history. The cultural event displayed a well-balanced blend of traditional values and modern trends.  The overwhelming presence of children and youth in the cultural event was one of the striking factors. Everyone who attended the function highly appreciated the grand feast and cultural show, and many of them praised this year’s KANE’s executive committee for doing a marvelous job.

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