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Hundreds mark end of Indian harvest fest in New Hyde Park

Thomas Koodarem leads a procession toward Clinton G.

Thomas Koodarem leads a procession toward Clinton G. Martin Hall in New Hyde Park during Onam Celebration hosted by the Indian American Malayalee Association of Long Island on Sunday, Sept. 28, 2014. Credit: Steven Sunshine

Hundreds from the South Asian community marked Onam, an Indian harvest festival, by reflecting on their roots and taking comfort in reunion Sunday in New Hyde Park.

Members of the Indian American Malayalee Association of Long Island celebrated the end of the festival. Onam has roots in Kerala, the Indian state, and celebrates the return of the mythical King Mahabali from exile in the underworld.

Many in attendance had themselves emigrated from Kerala and said they took solace in maintaining the holiday's tradition.

"There are so many people here I met years back," said Abraham George, 52, of New Hyde Park. He moved from Kerala to the United States in 1989. "This is the gathering where we can see each other and renew our friendships."

Community members of varying ages starred in several cultural celebrations: Thiruvathira, a type of folk dance; Ganamela, a musical concert; and Chendamelam, marked by drumbeats.

The proceedings began as men beat drums and women held out flower petals in a bowl in front of Clinton G. Martin Park. A man dressed as King Mahabali wore a golden crown, pink armor, a red skirt with gold trimmings and a sequined apron. He was joined by a man who appeared to be carrying a wooden umbrella.

Petals of marigolds and roses were arranged in a flower bed, forming the Athapookalam.

"This is a time we can get together, feast together, and show our traditions and cultures to the next generation," said Sabu Lukose, the association's president.

North Hempstead Town has seen a rise in its South Asian population, particularly in New Hyde Park. The event had previously been held in the Nassau County legislative chamber. Judi Bosworth, the town's supervisor, said, "We're so blessed our town has so many different cultures and so many different beliefs."

According to the legend, Mahabali reigned over a golden era of Kerala.

"This has no religion, no caste," said Saroja Varghese, 73, who emigrated from Kerala in 1972. "Everybody in the Kerala state can celebrate."

George Thomas, Nassau County human rights commissioner and the group's joint secretary, said he came to the United States from Kerala in 1990 seeking "better opportunities."

"All religions come together for this event: Christians, Muslims, Hindus," he said.

"We all came from different parts of Kerala and we are now in this room to meet each other, share in our thoughts, and our old memories in the state of Kerala," Abraham George said. "It's a celebration."

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