The Onam festival in Kerala, which came on September 12 this year, is the harvest festival of Kerala. It commemorates the mythical King Mahabali, celebrates the end of the monsoon season, and welcomes the harvest. Onam is celebrated over ten days during Kerala’s month of Chingam. People will hold grand processions, boat races, and traditional folk dances during the festival. The Onam Sadya, a feast consisting of nine or more vegetarian dishes, is also an indispensable part of the festival. Our Senior Citizens’ Forum celebrated it with a picnic at a farmhouse in Marangattupally near Pala, a town northeast of Kottayam.
Mahabali was the demon king who ruled Kerala in the ancient days. It is said that Mahabali defeated the gods and took over the three worlds. This made gods resent him and urge Lord Vishnu to help them fight against the demon king. Mahabali was a devotee of Lord Vishnu, and the god found it difficult to take sides in the battle. Vishnu, in his Vamana (poor Brahmin) avatar, visited Mahabali. Vamana asked for a gift of a piece of land to build his ashram. He wanted a piece that measures “three paces”. Mahabali agreed to this wish.
The Vamana avatar grew into a giant and covered everything the king ruled in just two steps. Then, to keep his word and honour, Mahabali offered his head for the third step. Vamana promptly pushes him down to ‘Pathal’, the netherworlds. Impressed by his gesture, Lord Vishnu allowed him to return to Earth once every year. This homecoming is celebrated as Onam.
My friends in the Forum decided to stage a skit during the picnic and wanted me to write it. I called it “Mahabali Fights to Reclaim Kerala”. The Cast is Mahabali, Vindhyavali (Mahabali’s wife), Padmavati (Vindhyavali’s friend), Mallika (another friend)
Vindhyavali, Mahabali’s wife, is sitting with a worried face, deep in thought. Mahabali has been away for some time on his Onam trip. Usually, he returns after ten days. Today is the fifteenth day. She is deeply concerned about what could have happened to cause such a delay.
Vindhyavali’s friend, Padmavati, is sitting nearby, chewing paan. She asked Vindhyavali not to worry and suggested that the horrendous traffic jam during the Onam days could be the reason for the delay. Vindhyavali is not convinced. She scoffs at the idea that a traffic jam could have caused such a delay of five days.
Padmavati has a bright idea. She says they should consult Mallika, a networker always talking on WhatsApp with her Kerala connections. Vindhyavati thinks this is an excellent idea and remembers that Mallika was supposed to visit her that day. At that moment, Mallika enters. She is highly disturbed.
Mallika blurts out that everything is a mess. She heard that Mahabali had been arrested by the Police. The credulous Vindhyavali easily believes the rumour and suspects that Mahabali might have beaten up someone for him to be arrested. She says that he has always been somewhat impulsive and gets angry at the slightest provocation.
This surprises Padmavati. She had always thought that he was quite level-headed! Vindhyavati points out that it was impulsiveness that got him into a scrape with Vaman in the first place. When Vaman asked for land measuring three steps, Mahabali had impulsively and vainly offered it to him. Indeed, impulsiveness made him lose all that land to that Brahmin. Impulsiveness, vanity and pride!
Mallika thinks Mahabali’s temper could have come from all the problems caused by the Kerala floods. During his annual trip, he might have had to take a boat to Trikkakkara and Aranmula, his favourite visiting places.
Mallika offers to look for news about Mahabali in her Whatsapp and Facebook links. She immediately contacts her connections and starts scanning Facebook for any information. Facebook indeed has the story which says that the Police arrested him because he went on a Satyagraha amid the KRail agitation.
Vindhyavali had not heard of the KRail agitation? “What on earth is that?”. Mallika explains that the Kerala government is planning a new rail line connecting Trivandrum to Kasargode in the north of Kerala. The claim is that in the blink of an eye, the train would take you from Trivandrum to Kasargode!. The idea is extremely unpopular with people who is afraid that they would lose their land for this.
Padmavati does not understand why should people agitate against such a train, which was obviously a good thing! Mallika explains Kerala has been suffering disasters one after another. Cloudbursts, landslides and floods have destroyed the hill ranges. Sea erosion has destroyed the coastal area. The only part left is the midlands which the KRail line would destroy. There will be no land for people. Kerala would indeed become pathal!
Vindhyavali does not understand why Mahabali should get involved in this which appears to be the problem of the Keralites. Mallika suggests they should consult Facebook for details, and She starts searching. It appears that Vindhyavali’s wifi connection is too weak. Finally, she finds that Mahabali’s Sathyagraha was on another issue!
Padmavati does not understand what issue could be there for Mahabali in Kerala after he had left all his possessions there in the Vamana episode. He came to ‘Pathal’ after giving away everything.
Mallika, reading from Facebook, says that the agitation appears to be due to Mahabali realizing that the terms of his agreement with Vamana made at the time he surrendered his land to him had been violated. When he was pushed down to the netherworld, Kerala was heaven. Vaman had agreed to keep it so. That was why Vishnu gave him the boon allowing him to visit Kerala once every year during the Onam days.
Padmavati wonders why Vaman should be responsible. He is no longer ruling Kerala. Mahabali says, “The rulers are Vamana’s counterparts. They have cheated Keralites of a just rule exactly like I was cheated out of my land’ Padmavati immediately sees the connection.” If Kerala becomes hell, Mahabali could remain there. No need to come back here! So, he was agitating for being permitted to stay in the nightmare which Kerala has become now.”
There is a disturbance outside. Mahabali enters, pushing open the door. He looks to be in bad shape. There are bandages on his arm and head. He walks with a stick. Vindhyavali receives him weeping. She does not understand why he has to get into these scraps. Mahabali replies that his is a fight over principles. Vaman had promised that he would keep Kerala like the heaven that it was in his time. That is lost now!
Vindhyavali. Wonders whether they could go back. However, Mahabali did not think that it was going to be easy. When they left Kerala, it was an autonomous kingdom. Now it is part of the Indian republic. His Satyagraha failed because the Kerala Government admitted it was out of their hands. Mallika realizes this is not a state problem and only the Central Government can do something.
Mahabali says that he has consulted some lawyers of the Supreme Court. They discovered that there was a deal in 2015 when some land was given away to Bangladesh. Therefore, they think that they could file an appeal based on precedence.
Mallika advises Mahabali to take rest. “Maybe after a bath. You do look worn out.” Mahabali agrees that he was indeed exhausted and wonders whether someone could give him a good massage.
To this, the ladies gleefully offer their services and escort Mahabali inside.