Onam celebration in Saigon fetes Indian diversity

By Sen    September 3, 2018 | 08:19 pm GMT+7

Onam@Saigon in Vietnam was a vibrant celebration of Indian diversity that raised funds for flood victims in Kerala.

There is an old story that still does the rounds in India.

When Neil Armstrong lands on the moon for the first time, a Keralite tea stall owner greets him, saying, "Would you like a cup of tea, sir?"

The story is a humorous reference to ubiquitous presence of Keralite diaspora. Kerala is a small south Indian state from where people have branched out to every corner of the globe.

The Keralites are present in Vietnam, too, and they have been marking their presence for 18 years with Onam@Saigon, one of the liveliest Indian festival celebrations of the year in the country.

This year, there was an unfortunate twist to the festival, with the state making global headlines after it was struck by unprecedented flooding that killed close to 400 people and, marooned millions in their homes and thousands of relief camps.

The organizers of the festival, Onam@Saigon, who had already made all the preparations, including arranging for perfomers and a cook to fly from Kerala to Saigon, and selling tickets to the popular event, were in a quandary. They took the simplest way out, and turned the event into a very successful fund raiser recently.

The festival also turned out to be a vibrant cultural event that lifted the spirits of Malayalees (Keralites). That the event was peppered with Vietnamese participation lent it a special flavor.

Onam@Saigon18: color Saigon with Keralas festival

Vietnamese women dressed in traditional Kerala attire (offwhite and gold), who performed a folk dance, pose with a Vietnamese woman who attended the event in a blue saree. Photo courtesy of Onam@Saigon18

"Happy Onam!", was a greeting heard constantly as people arrived for Onam@Saigon 18. It attracted some of the most amazing Indian fashionistas. Many festival-goers and performers came beautifully dressed in the saree, a traditional attire for Indian women all over the country.

The event commenced with the traditional ritual of lighting the lamp, signifying something good and auspicious. Light represents abundance, fortune, and auspiciousness in Hindu culture.

Vietnamese sophomore students from the University of Social Sciences and Humanities performed the Thiruvathirakkali, a Kerala folk dance. The students are majors in Indian Studies at the Department of Oriental Studies. It is not easy for foreigners to perform this dance without putting a foot wrong. They did a wonderful job, smiling throughout, the emcee of the show said, to resounding applause. Photo by Huong Sen

Vietnamese sophomore students from the University of Social Sciences and Humanities performed the Thiruvathirakkali, a Kerala folk dance. The students are majors in Indian Studies at the Department of Oriental Studies. "It is not easy for foreigners to perform this dance without putting a foot wrong. They did a wonderful job, smiling throughout," the emcee of the show said, to resounding applause. Photo by Sen

A classic Kathak dancer shared the meaning behind her painted hands and feet. Red paint made of flowers is used for religious functions, as a way to pay respect to their Gods. It delivers a powerful expression especially when they pray. This practice is reserved only for special occasions.

Anupama Jha Kumar, who performed the classic Indian dance of Kathak, celebrated the monsoon with her performance. Explaining her exquisitely painted hands and feet, she said that the red colored powder, extracted from flowers, is used in religious functions to pay respect to the Gods. Photo by Sen

Joy, a chef at Onam@Saigon18. He is the only standing chef at the buffet, making sure everyone receives a hotly made Appam. Appam is an Indian rice cake served with spicy curry.

Joy was the only standing chef at Onam@Saigon18. He made sure everyone received a hot Appam, an Indian rice bread that is scooped out of the pan. It is typically served with a spicy curry cooked in coconut milk. Photo courtesy of Onam@Saigon18

A highlight of the event was the Onasadhya, the traditional Onam feast served on banana leaves, with more than 20 dishes eaten with relish using hands  no forks, no chopsticks. Photo courtesy of Onam@Saigon18

A highlight of the event was the Onasadhya, the traditional Onam feast served on banana leaves, with more than 20 dishes eaten with relish using hands – no forks, no chopsticks. Photo courtesy of Onam@Saigon18

A group of the party goers excite the whole room with  their freestyle dancing along with the upbeat melodies of the  performances. The entire atmosphere is a combination of jubilance and  excitement. When asked about the significance of the event, Indian  participants exert an air of confidence and pride of their culture.

A large group of festival-goers added to the excitement with their freestyle dancing to the upbeat melodies of the performers. Photo by Sen

The atmosphere at Onam@Saigon 2018 was a combination of jubilance and excitement. With songs in at least five languages and dances from different parts of the country, Indians attending the event spoke confidently and proudly about their country’s cultural diversity.

Organizers later said that with more than 750 people attending the festival, the event was more successful than they expected. They raised around $20,000, the bulk of which ($16,500) was handed over to the Indian Consul General in HCMC, and the rest to a Vietnamese orphanage and a center for specially-abled people.

 
 
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