My husband ventured out of the school building and on to the road because he did not want to vape in front of the children who were a part of the Onam festivities. That’s when curiosity got the better of those who were walking past on the pavement and they asked him, what the fuss was all about.
And we must have looked quite out of place, really. We were all in our colourful, traditional outfits. Some of us had taken a bus or two. Some of us had driven.
We had all come to this school building in Griffith Avenue, Dublin-9 to celebrate Onam – a festival from the South of India. This festival is largely celebrated in Kerala and it is about honouring the king Mahabali whose spirit visits the state at the time of Onam. There are various interesting stories or mythological tales if you can call them that, behind the festival and why the king was so beloved and why he got to visit his former kingdom every year.
I will tell you why I went to celebrate Onam. I am not from the South of India. I am, rather from the western part of India. But I love food and feasting and meeting people. I also love the diversity of festivals across India and the element of joy and sense of cheer they bring to the people who celebrate them and also to the neighbourhood.
There are lots of things that a person from Kerala would do to celebrate this festival, and one amongst the many traditions is the Onam feast known as sadya.
It is a completely vegetarian feast consisting of about 20 to 26 items, and all of these are served on a banana leaf and the meal is eaten sitting down on a long table with other fellow guests. You don’t get up to serve yourself, you are served to – with the host (there will be a number of people serving you) coming every now and then and refilling your plate. There is an order in which the items arrive and also how these are placed.
And oh yes, there’s no cutlery. You eat with your hands. Mixing the rice and the sambhars and the chutneys and the vegetables with your hands, feeling each texture, each individual note of the food as you bring it to your eager and waiting mouth!
I love that meal and the beautiful and distinct flavours of each of the items served on your plate.
That is why I was there. I was also there because it gave me an opportunity to meet other Indians, to go out with my neighbours, to be able to have a little bit of India in Dublin.
I have to say it also gave me an opportunity to wear one of my traditional outfits, and being in a group gave me a sort of courage to wear that and get on the bus! [Courage because imagine a long frock or dress in a bright purple and cream, with tiny little golden circles sewn in. The dress is accompanied with a long chiffon dupatta (about five times the size of a western stole) and for accessories, I am wearing jhumkas in my ears, a bright bindi on my forehead, and a mangalsutra (a gold and black beaded traditional necklace with a pendant worn by married women in India.) Now imagine the rest of Dubliners in their western dresses, or exercise/walking wear, with subdued colours and absolutely no gold or golden jewellery!]
If you live in Dublin and would like to partake of this feast, it’s open for everyone. We paid 15 Euros per person and it included the food and also covered the entire day’s proceedings (the event was from 11 am to 7 pm) which had games and competitions for children and adults and cultural events like songs and dances.
Though I have to say that we didn’t stay for the entire evening. We left at about four. We encountered some difficulty in finding a bus back home as all buses were full due to Dubliners heading to their favourite pubs to catch the All-Ireland SFC final replay.
So we took the Dart to Dún Laoghaire instead. We stopped by at the Forty Foot pub and restaurant for some drinks and snacks, and then headed back home.
We got quite a few curious looks as we darted up the stairs in our Indian outfits, but by the end of the day, we were used to it and nobody was rude or anything of that sort. Plus, we had a most beautiful day, a lovely feast and the sun was out shining the entire day – not a drop of rain, not a gust of naughty wind – what more can you ask for?