By Alhaji Haruna Sani
In a colorful demonstration of its spectrum of distinct culture and traditions, the Sierra Leone Malayali Association (SILMA) on Sunday, August 20th celebrated the 2023 Onam annual festival, at the New Brookfields Hotel in Freetown.
SILMA 4th annual celebration in Freetown brought together not only members of the Malayali community but also other Indians, Lebanese and Sierra Leoneans who feast together on Banana leaves as a way of demonstrating the Indian culture.
Onam is an annual Indian harvest festival celebrated predominantly by the Hindus of Kerala. A major annual event for Keralites and the official festival of the state includes a spectrum of cultural events including sharing of love for one another.
The Onam festival commemorates King Mahabali and Vamana. According to Hindu legends, Onam is celebrated in Kerala in remembrance of the good governance under the rule of daitya king Mahabali, a mythical king who once ruled Kerala.
The celebration was marked by a classic display of cultural performances like dancing competition, artistic work display and series of games which were followed by a sumptuous meal that included 22 varieties of food items.
In her welcome speech, Mrs. Fouzy Shan, member of SILMA said Onam is an annual Indian harvest festival predominantly celebrated by the Hindus of Keralait which last for ten days and falls between August and September.
She said the festival includes cultural events like boat races, dances and special feast with a spectrum of cultural events.
Mrs. Fouzy Shan dinning with fellow members of SILMA
In his keynote speech, Pankaj Kumar Sharma, Second Secretary of the Indian High Commission to Sierra Leone explained that Onam festival commemorates King Mahabali and Vamana.
He said the legend holds jealous of Mahabali’s popularity and his power, adding that the devas and gods conspired to end his reign and they sent Vamana to earth in the form of a dwarf Brahmin who trampled Mahabali to patala (netherworld). According to the India Diplomat, Vamana asked Mahabali for three feet of land as his wish from the generous Mahabali.
“Since denying gifts to Brahmin is considered a sacrilege, Mahabali agreed to fulfill Vamana’s wish. In the first two feet Vamana measured the entirety of universe, leaving nowhere to place his third foot. Mahabali offered his own head to place his third feet making the wish complete. However, witnessing Mahabali’s generosity, Vishnu granted the king’s sole wish to visit his land and people once every year. This homecoming of Mahabali is celebrated as Onam in Kerala every year,” he concluded.
Pankaj Kumar Sharma, Second Secretary of the Indian High Commission to Sierra Leone making his statement during the colourful event at the Newbrookfields Hotel in Freetown.
Shan Mathew, SILMA acting President also spoke on the relevance of the celebrations, stating the event which is predominantly celebrated by the Hindu is also dignified by others irrespective of their financial status, cultural, religious and ethnic background and can be celebrated within the maximum level.
He commended the organisers for their incredible job in ensuring that the event becomes colourful irrespective of the limitations they have in Sierra Leone, which he said proves their ability to do anything within limitations.
He emphasized on the importance of unity and team work, stating that with unity and team work one can achieve great things
Mathew also applauded all members of the India Community for making the event possible.
Shan Mathew, acting President of SILMA making his statement at the event
Kishin Maithani Commercial Director, G. Shankerdas and sons said the functions celebrate Indian diversity, he said the festival emanates from the South of India whiles he hailed from North but that could not serve as a barrier because they are basically from the same community.
“So I deem it necessary to patronized with my Indian Brothers at least to learn from their own culture,” he said.
Kishin affirmed that he comes from Malaysia where they have a very good Malayali community. “We grew up seeing those festivals from childhood, but in Sierra Leone it is just the 4th celebration and the first one I have attended,” he said.
He went on to state that India is made up of different communities and ethnic groups, but as soon as they step out of India they become one. “Even though this is might be Malayali and Kerala function, it is an incredible India function,” he asserted.
In is vote of thanks, Savin Suhas, Treasurer, SILMA expressed gratitude to the entire Indian community and beyond who do not only grace the occasion, but also spend their earnings to see that the program becomes a success.
He expressed delight over the outcome of the event and prayed that the next event will be more successful the previous ones.
Other speakers included Mrs Athira Savin, SILMA member, Deepak Kashyap, Attache Consular, Indian High Commission Office Freetown, Jobin Jose, Joint Secretary and Ullas Raveendran Nair, Secretary SILMA, all of them spoke on the relevance of the celebration and commend the organisers and sponsors.
Savin Suhas, SILMA Treasurer, delivering vote of thanks at the end of the event