In Kerala also, fairs and festivals go together. Wherever people assemble in a predictable manner there would be traders!
Not all festivals involve people assembling at a particular spot. For example, the major Kerala festival, Onam, is primarily a festival celebrated in the privacy of people's homes. But fairs would be there in this case also; not at the place of celebration but at the shopping districts.
Onam is the major festival in Kerala. People celebrate it with feasting, new clothes and different kinds of entertainment programs. It is a time for big shopping. New stocks of clothes, vegetables and all other kinds of merchandise appear in shops during onam.
There is a strange myth behind onam (which we would narrate in a separate essay) that seems to reflect a major social tranformation in Kerala. The essay on Flowers in Kerala also discusses onam celebrations, involving heavy use of flowers.
Vishu is a festival that celebrates the Equinox, when the sun crosses the equator, and day and night are of equal length. It is also a private celebration as outlined in Flowers in Kerala essay. This festival is not all that significant for fairs, except for fire-crackers and konna flowers.
Sivaratri is a festival when people do indeed assemble for certain ceremonies at a Siva temple. Devotees do not sleep during that night, in order to keep company with Lord Siva. The Lord had swallowed a big chunk of snake poison that could have destroyed the earth, and if he had slept, it would have been an endless sleep. Hence the effort to keep him company (and awake).
Fairs at these Siva temples typically display traditional wares used by people for household work. (The stall in the pic right shows wooden spoons, rolling pins, frames and decorative articles.) We discuss a typical sivaratri fair in more detail elsewhere.
Thiruvathira was another Kerala festival with a strange mythical story behind it. At the end of the story, Lord Siva marries Parvati (daughter of the mountain on which he was doing penance) on thiruvathira day. Women observe certain rituals for ten days and on thiruvathira day, they gather at one house and dance through the night clapping their hands. The devotees believed that these observances would get them good husbands.
Thiruvathira is not celebrated much these days.
Chistmas and New Year, celebrated by Christians in Kerala, is spreading to other communities. It is also a big occasion for shopping and celebrating. Valentine's Day is also attracting the fancy of younger generation here.
Ramzan, the Muslim festival involving month-long fasting, is still confined to the Muslim community, though the ramzan day is observed as a general holiday in Kerala.
Then there are the numerous local temple and church festivals, celebrated with increasing pomp (and trade) by the people of concerned localities. There are also some large scale festivals like the pilgrimages to sabarimala and malayattoor that attract people from far places.
Sabarimala pilgrimage is Hindu while Malayattoor pilgrimage is Christian. Yet both show many similarities. Both involve the pilgrims climbing hills. In both, the climbers chant the name of the deity, set to a certain tune. Huge numbers of pilgrims, chanting the tune together, create a hypnotic ambience, probably helping the hard climb.
We will look at some of the festivals in separate essays.
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