The Importance of Onam in a changing society

via Dr. Babu Suseelan published on August 14, 2010

The world is utterly and irreversibly changing as a result of the Digital Revolution. The exponential growth of the Internet, the emergence of “Cyberspace” and massive computer networking changes our social and cultural life. Modern technology, Genetic Engineering, and Electronic Media are changing human relationships with space and time in a fundamental way. The world we live is experiencing an important shift with far reaching consequences. Modern Technology can be seen as dangerous practice and/or as a means to bring mankind to higher standards of living.
One of the most powerful myths of modern culture is the idea of “progress” through technology, and commerce in the market place. Through cyber technology and mighty industrial empire, modern culture pursues a vision of human salvation through technology. It finds its value in cyber technology, digital revolution, and economic profit. In this culture, people are obsessed with consumerism. People are indifferent and hostile to spirituality and a unifying philosophical paradigm. In this context, traditional wisdom is reduced to cold, hard sound bites. Knowledge and information are reduced to numbers and data to manipulate and control consumers. In this fast moving culture, our whole life has become a series of change. People move from city to city searching for jobs leaving behind family, friends, roots and our religious foundation. In this throw away world; disposables are a way of life. In this electronic culture, people are brainwashed into consumerism. People are programmed into how to think, what to buy, what to eat, and how to live. The electronic media is influencing our values, shaping our perceptions, our culture and life. As a result, individuals lose his or her sense of awareness, experience existential anxiety and these psychosocial conditions overflows into all aspects of social and family life.

ONAM is one of the most important Hindu festivals of Kerala. ONAM (Sravanam in Sanskrit) is also known as Vamana Jayanti. it is on that day that Bhagavan Vishnu took the form of Vamana to suppress the ego of an otherwise good and popular King Mahabali (Grandson of Prahalada). King Mahabali loved his subjects very much and hence asked Bhagavan Vishnu to allow him to visit his subjects once a year on that day. Hence this day is celebrated in Kerala as the return of their favorite King Mahabali. The homes are beautifully decorated and there is ambiance of festivity every where in anticipation of the return of Mahabali.  Boat races, floral decorations, cultural performances, music concerts are common during this festival. Kerala considers Onam to be the beginning of a New Year. Temples in Kerala have special pujas on this day.
As we celebrate ONAM, one of our most sacred spiritual festivals, it is time to ask ourselves what is really important for our survival. What keeps us going? Not just in work, but in life. Who we want to be…. Not where we want to be. The process always starts with a deep look inside and outside…asking some basic, but important questions. What are our values? What are the values that sustains us in this ever changing society? How do we extricate from this…all pervasive influence of the electronic media, intrusive technology, virtual reality, Communism, secularism and the coercive nature of fundamental religious groups? Can we escape from the electronic sound bites, images, media manipulation, Communism, Jihadi terrorism and coercive religious conversion? Do these new stimuli have any redeeming spiritual value? These are critical questions! They demand our attention, judgment and action.

While we celebrate ONAM, we Hindus have a responsibility. We may have to do more than enjoying our feast. Perhaps, we may pause for a moment from the blinding virtual reality and rediscover the center of our Being. We must rediscover our moral-cultural-spiritual values. We must reintegrate our spirituality with cyber technology. During the ONAM season, let us join together and pledge to rediscover and nurture our eternal Hindu Dharma. It is a spiritual responsibility and pleasurable journey. Let us set off this new spiritual pursuit to fill the gap between spiritual space and cyber space.
Striving to bring sanity, harmony, and spirituality in our life and in our world demands creativity, dedication and commitment. It is time to articulate our eternal Dharma.

During this ONAM season, let us pledge our purpose. Our sacred culture unites us. It is our common bond. It unifies us. Our shared festival experience binds us together. Our ONAM is an expression of our spiritual bonding.
Hindus across Kerala need to be aware of the commercialization and distortion of ONAM. Several companies have announced the launch of ONAM special sale to promote their products. The commercialization of ONAM across Kerala has damaging effects on the Hindu community, and the society at large. It impacts our culture, distort our tradition and misdirect our Hindu focus. Secularists, Communists, Islamists and missionaries are promoting ONAM as an agricultural/harvest festival to denigrate Hindus. It is a deliberate attempt to cut of Hindu roots from the sacred ONAM festival and promote it as a commercial event. Hindus must acknowledge the ascent of these secular games and tyranny and stop the commercialization and  distortion of ONAM. Hindus must reassert the Hindu origin of ONAM, cultural nationalism and resist secularizing Hindu festivals. Hindus must reassert pride and glory of our Hindu past for the future of Kerala.  Hindus need to return to authentic Hindu origins and its spiritual sanctity.
It is time to preserve, protect, practice and articulate our cultural heritage. It is usually only in articulating our Dharma, our belief system, and judgments to others that we know what we believe. Articulation follows reflection and study. Discussing our eternal Dharma is an important part of the critical process and opens us to new insights into our culture and spiritual values. It is up to us to translate our Dharma into our life, so that we can extend this heightened spirituality, this increased awareness to promote an integrated way of living. It is a challenge! With the blessing of God VISHNU, we are up to it.

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