Sun | Nov 17, 2019

Happy Onam from across the ocean - Indian celebration has second staging in Jamaica

Published:Saturday | September 4, 2010 | 12:00 AM
Women perform the Thiruvathira during Happy Onam celebrations at the Shell Band Stand on the grounds of Hope Botanic Gardens in St Andrew. - Photo by Marcia Rowe

On the arrival of the first batch of Indians as indentured servants many centuries ago, the histories of Jamaica and India became intertwined. Over the centuries, aspects of the Indian culture, mainly its cuisine and the Hossay Festival celebrated in the cane-field belts of Clarendon and Westmoreland, have helped to shape Jamaica's cultural landscape. But Jamaicans of Indian descent and others have much more than food to learn about India.

Last Sunday, some Jamaicans got a chance to experience another aspect of the Indian culture when a group of Indians organised Happy Onam: On Behalf of the Keralites of Beautiful Jamaica, Moveli Visiting Jamaica from God's Own Country, at the Shell Band Stand on the grounds of Hope Botanic Gardens in St Andrew.

Eby John, one of the organisers, explained that the festivity evolved from a belief that Emperor Mahabali, who ruled the nation of Kerala, now one of India's Southern states, will visit in the month of Chingam (August). His visit is celebrated by 10 days of festivity which included an intricate flower carpet called Atha Pookkalam, an elaborate banquet lunch and Kaikottikkali dance. It is the biggest festival of the year in India.

Poor organisation

In its second year on Jamaican soil, Sunday's festivity, divided into two segments, the cultural programme and the feast, was a rich display of traditional garments, dances and songs, but was marred by poor organisation.

Scheduled to begin at 10 a.m., the festivity got off to a disappointing two-hour-late start, the cultural segment was also punctuated by a number of pauses. The steady shower of rain, no fault of the organisers, though well navigated, made matters worse.

But the small gathering, which seemed to enjoy the opportunity to experience or relive the occasion, was treated to mainly traditional songs and dances, performed by groups and soloists. The performers were from Jamaica and India.

Among the dance items was a group dancing the Thiruvathira, a traditional dance performed by women, comprising mainly circular formations.

Shanique Jhun, a Jamaican of Indian descent, teamed up with Hitendra Singh of India to dance Salam-e-ish. The song, done in Hindi, tells the tale of a girl who needed to resolve an issue. She was given advice by a young man who also had a similar problem.

Audience laughing

The dance drama a Medical Skit was entertaining and had the audience laughing.

Young Mervin James, a fourth-form student of Jamaica College, donned his traditional clothes and his MC duties to dance to the song Twist from the movie Love Aajkal.

The Suresh family, Lini (mother) and her two daughters Linou and Leeshma, performed a rather entertaining classical dance titled Kalabbam Tharam.

Father Suresh teamed up with Joy Korea and John to sing Ente Kalbile (From My Soul).

But the Indian culture is complex and this was evident when Eby John in delivering the only spoken item on the programme experienced a language block. His comedy act was spoken in Malayalam, his native language and no doubt it was hilarious but in spite of the intense concentration, only few were able to respond to the punchlines.

Happy Onam cultural programme culminated with a fashion show. It was a showcase of the various styles and colours of the Indian clothes. The occasion was entertaining and informative, and with better organisation will be worth experiencing.