The practice is very similar to that of children visiting homes in Kerala during Christmas and singing carols, as one of them stands dressed as Santa Claus.

A man dressed as Mahabali is at the centre of a small group of children standing in the front of a house
Features Onam Tuesday, September 06, 2022 - 19:30

Somehow, the practice came to be called Onacarol (Onam carols) – a large group of people visiting homes in a village and singing Onam songs together. It has been around for decades in the village of Valayanchirangara near Perumbavoor of Kerala. The practice is very similar to that of children visiting houses in Kerala during Christmas and singing carols, as one of them stands dressed as Santa Claus. In place of Santa, the Onam carol group has Mahabali, the mythical king on whose story the festival is based.

“I am not sure how it began but ours is a village which is full of cultural activities, so much that it is also called Aksharagramam (village of letters). Back in the early 1990s or thereabouts, three cultural groups floated this idea of singing Onam carols — Suvarna Theatres, Olympics Sports Club and VN Kesavapilla Smarakam,” says Rajesh, who is the present secretary of Suvarna Theatres.

The group has people across ages — from five-year-old children to senior citizens who are more than 65 years old. Rajesh reckons there must be at least 60 members in the group, visiting a thousand houses through the nine days leading up to Onam. “We begin on Atham 1 (Malayalam month) and go on till Uthradam, every evening between 6.30 and 9.30. We need to end it by then because the children will have to go to school the next day, and many of the adults for their work – there are people from all circles, daily wage workers and IT professionals among them,” Rajesh says.

At every house they stop, they sing Onam songs and ‘Mahabali’ blesses the children in the family. In return, the family they visit offers snacks, sweets and money. In the last house of the day, the family would have arranged dinner for all the members of the carol group.

 

 

“We have done this every year since members of a previous generation – who were then young and active – started the practice. The only time we stopped was in the last two years, due to COVID-19. This year we restarted the Onam carols. We actually call it Onacarol (as a single term),” Rajesh says.

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