Come August 29, Malayalees the world over will celebrate Onam. Though the origin of the harvest festival is deeply rooted in Hindu legends and mythology, Keralites across the religious spectrum celebrate the festival with traditional gaiety and enthusiasm.
Onam is a community event, a celebration of a time in the past when all men (and women) were equal. The people of Kerala, irrespective of their faith, caste and class, remember the golden era of the Asura (demon) king Mahabali they all loved, and welcome him on his annual visit to their homes with open arms.
In almost all cultures, societies, and religions around the world, there is some myth or memory of a distant past when mankind lived in perfect happiness, equality, fulfillment and in harmony with nature.
It reflects the quest of human beings for an egalitarian social order, which also finds reference in different religions and ideologies. Sir Thomas More coined the term Utopia in his 1561 classic by the same name, describing a fictional island in the Atlantic Ocean, which represented a perfect socio-political-legal system.
The concept of Ram Rajya, which was advocated by Mahatma Gandhi himself, implied an idea where values of justice, equality, idealism, renunciation and sacrifice are practiced.
Elaborating on the concept, Gandhi had said, “Let no one commit the mistake of thinking that Ram Rajya means the rule of Hindus. My Ram is another name for Khuda or God. I want Khuda Raj which is the same thing as the Kingdom of God on Earth.”
In fact, the 17th century saint, Sant Tukaram, extolled Chhatrapati Shivaji’s reign as Ram Rajya in which the ruler and the subjects were all equal and there was all-round welfare.
‘Maveli naadu vaaneedum kaalam,’ a very popular song sung during Onam means, “When Maveli ruled the land, all the people were equal. And people were joyful and merry; they were all free from harm. There was neither anxiety nor sickness. Deaths of children were unheard of. There were no lies. There was neither theft nor deceit, and no one was false in speech either. Measures and weights were right. No one cheated or wronged his neighbor. When Maveli ruled the land, all the people formed one casteless race.”
Governments and people around the world have a lot to learn from Onam.
The author is the director of the Global Foundation for Civilizational Harmony (India)