During Onam season Mallu minds would be full of thoughts of pookalams, sadya, and celebrations. The festival marks the annual visit of the mythical King Mahabali (Maveli) to Kerala, the land that he once ruled to perfection.
Olakkuda, an umbrella made of palmyra leaves, is an integral part of the depictions relating to Onam. Also, we have the story of Kuchelan in penury visiting the Lord, with a torn olakkuda and a packet of rice flakes soaked in his tears.
During which period did these legends start? According to Wikipedia, the Maveli episode was in the pre-Ramayana era. It would appear that Kuchelan lived during the time of Mahabharatha. I am curious because both stories mention olakkuda. Then we have Buddha’s instructions which permitted only eight earthly possessions for the monks. These included palmyra leaf fan, and umbrella. It is not clear that the umbrella was also made of the palm leaf, but in all likelihood it was.
According to many writings, umbrellas were being used in countries like
The status symbol aspect appears to have been common to all countries. In Kerala, only Namputhiris (Kerala Brahmins) and Syrian Christians could have them. Some vestiges of using an umbrella as an instrument to demonstrate respect still exist in some remote villages. On coming across a peer, a man walking with an open umbrella would either fold or hold it to a side.
The ladies also used umbrellas to conceal their faces and bodies from the eyes of the opposite sex. The men normally did not carry olakkudas themselves; one of the servants would hold it for them.
In Malayalam, the present day umbrellas were known (not in usage now) as seemakuda (seema = Europe, more specifically
Today olakkuda is a rare sight. One finds them mostly in curio shops and tourist places. Hardly any one uses olakkuda now. If you get a chance, try it. Olakkuda is effective in both sunshine and in rain.
I'm the proud grandfather of this pretty young girl, Nonee (Annie).
(See: The tooth fairy came by...)