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The aesthetics of Onam

If you were to take a walk in any of the cities or towns of Kerala this past Thursday or Friday, you would see a higher than usual proportion of men and women decked out in traditional clothes. Men would be wearing a mundu and shirt, along with shades (if they are cool enough to pull if off) while women would be wearing what is referred to as a “Kerala set sari“, sometimes with a set of Jasmine flowers on their hair. It is a phenomenon across Kerala, on the last working day before the grand (normally) four day Onam ‘vacation’ starts.


It is widely popular for boys, especially in engineering colleges to come in similar clothes and shades. This seems to be a outpouring from the widely successful movie Premam (2015). *Note that this is my personal speculation (This was also combined with a particular celebration in an Alappuzha Engineering college which inspired another Malayalam movie, Queen (2018).

All the persons dressed up are going to their educational institutions or workplaces’ Onam celebration, an occasion for many to unwind and eat an hearty sadya. It is one of the most enduring cultural motifs of Kerala. I find this time to be of great joy to me, not only because it is Onam, but also it gladdens me to see that the aesthetic of traditional dressing is revived, even if for a day.


Note the jasmine flowers as well as the use of heavy lanky earrings (*Jimmiki Kammal’s popularity could have played a role here as well)

I have increasingly felt that Keralite culture is increasingly in an irreversible decline, but when Onam or Vishu comes around my mind flickers with a certain hope, a resilience of culture against all the odds that it faces. The increasing propensity of what can be be described as “Freaken culture” to me is the biggest symptom that the traditional modicums of cultural transmission were in decline. This may not be entirely the case. It seems to me that those modes are gaining in strength in hitherto unexpected ways. Mixing what is considered ‘traditional’ into what – is considered modern seems increasingly easy for many in my generation, a change that many in the previous generations treated as distinct and separate, inherently opposed to one another.

That was not the point I meant to make though. It was that people ought to wear traditional clothes more often. A pride in certain cultural motifs would be a great thing, in all honesty.  

Note:Photos were randomly sourced from the internet.


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