|Fr. Varghese is second from right, in a |
traditional shirt and mundu (robe).
Malayali in the South Indian state of Kerala celebrate the harvest festival of "Onam," with ten days of events and gatherings. Much as Thanksgiving celebrations bridge every class, religion and ethnicity in America, all castes and religions in Kerala join in the cultural celebrations of Onam, which recall the virtuous and peaceable reign of legendary King Mahabali. This ancient monarch is revered for fighting injustice and encouraging equality among all his subjects.
Fr. Varghese hails from Kerala, and joined other Malayali in his current home state of Andhra Pradesh, in celebrating Onam. Although this area is largely Telegu, the coastal city of Kakinada is home to many ethnic groups, including a sizeable population from Kerala. They are called "Malayali" because of their Dravidian language of Malayalam. Keralan native families hosted Fr. Varghese at the main Catholic mission in Kakinada for an afternoon of festivities. He arrived with other guests in his shirt and traditional mundu (robe) and was welcomed with a shower of flower petals.
Ladies in Keralan "sett-saris," traditional linen saris with gold borders, prepared in the church hall a vivid "Pookolam," a "rangoli" pattern decorated with live flower petals.
Fr. Varghese and others at their Kakinada gathering also took this approach, mixing prayer with the cultural celebration that featured folk dance, music and a shared meal with traditional dishes such as sambar (vegetable stew) with rice and spicy pickles, served on plantain leaves and eaten with the right hand.
"Place Christ and His most Holy Mother at the centre of your celebration of Onam and demonstrate your enthusiasm for Indian culture within the Light of Christ," encouraged a guest poster on a Catholic Answers Forum. "Have a good time..with all the rich colour, foods and traditions that this holiday entails."