Discover a Grand Cultural Extravaganza at Kerala’s Legendary Onam Festival!
Onam is one of the most popular festival of Kerala, portraying the rich cultural heritage of Kerala. Rich customs, traditions and glorious bygone era is on display during the festival. The festive spirit of grand celebrations attract the travelers from every corner of the world. Onam starts from the first day Atham and continues for ten days till the final day called Thiru Onam.
The festival is organized by the Tourism Department of Kerala and plays an important role in boosting the state tourism through the festival celebrations. Visitors can have a glimpse rich cultural heritage of Kerala during the festival celebrations. For centuries, the festival holds an importance place in the calendar of Kerala Festivals.
Kerala is the southern-most state on India’s western seaboard. It is blessed with an equable climate and a long shoreline dotted with serene, sun-drenched beaches that give way to tranquil stretches of emerald backwaters in the hinterland. The backwaters soon give way to lush, forested mountainous landscape dotted with quaint hill stations and exotic wildlife. The scenery here is composed mostly of picturesque waterfalls tumbling breathlessly down steeply wooded hills, sprawling spice plantations and paddy fields in the occasional, leveled clearing. The state is home to Ayurveda and the original herbal health spas. Enchanting art forms, magical festivals, historic monuments and an exotic, enticing cuisine that defies description, add colour to an ancient culture.
Date of Celebration
People across Kerala celebrates this festival irrespective of their caste and creed. It falls in the month of Chingam according to the Malayalam calendar.
Legend Behind Onam
According to legends, the festival celebrates the return of King Mahabali, the demon king who was the former ruler of the place. Therefore on this auspicious occasion, people are filled with happiness and joy. To commemorate the event, people decorate their houses for the warm welcome of god.
A long long time ago, an Asura (demon) king called Mahabali ruled Kerala. He was a wise, benevolent and judicious ruler and beloved of his subjects. Soon he conquered all the three worlds. Aditi, the mother of Devas went to Vishnu for help. Vishnu incarnated in the form of a dwarf called Vamana and approached Mahabali while he was performing a sacrifice (yajn) and asked for alms Mahabali granted him a wish. The Vamana asked for three paces of land for his living – and the king agreed to it. Vamana grew to great proportions. In the first step, he covered the heavens and with the second, he covered the netherworld. Realizing that Vamana’s third step will destroy the earth, Mahabali offered his head as the last step in order to save this world. Vishnu pushed him to the netherworld, but before banishing him to the underworld, Vishnu granted him a boon. He was allowed to return once a year to visit his people. It is during this day, called Onam, that Kerala pays tribute to the memory of this benign king who gave his life for his people There is an expectation that one day Maha Bali will return and establish his glorious kingdom once again on the earth.
The Period of the King of the Great Sacrifice When Maha Bali Ruled. Here is a song which we have been singing through generations during the Onam festival:
“Maveli Nadu Vanidum Kalam
Amodathode vasikum kalam
Adhikal Vyadhikal Onnumilla
Bala maranangal Kelkanilla
Ellolamilla Poli Vachanam
Kallaparyum Cheru Nazhiyum
It translates as:
“When Maveli, our King, ruled the land,
All the people were as One.
And people live joyful and merry;
They were all free from harm.
There was neither anxiety nor sickness,
Death of the children were never even heard of,
There were no lies,
There is neither theft nor deceit,
And no one is false in speech either.
Measures and weights were right;
No one cheated or wronged their neighbor.
When Maveli, our King, ruled the land,
All the peoples formed one casteless race.”
Onam is the only festival which Christians in Kerala celebrate in common with Hindus – it is the only festival which is celebrated together even by the outcastes, untouchables, Christians, Muslims and the high castes.
Preparation for the Celebrations
On the auspicious day of Onam, people are filled with festive mood and excitement. The first day of Onam is known as Attam. As the day begins, women get up early, have bath and wear white color sari with zari border. They adorn themselves with designer jewelery and nicely pin the strings of fresh flower in their long black tresses. After that other family member also get dressed themselves in new clothes and are prepared for the celebrations.
The house yards are smoothened with cow dung. Than the east side of the house is decorated with flowers as it is considered to be scared according to Hindu belief. The beautiful patterns of flower are made on the front gate which are generally circular in shape. In the centre of the design cow dung is placed which symbolizes God Ganesha.
For the next ten days, till Onam is over, every day the place is moistened with cow dung and decorated with fresh flowers. People dance and sing around the Attam to celebrate the visit of King Mahabali to earth.
Ten Days Of Onam
Atham – Day One
Atham is the first day of festivities in the ten-day-long Onam carnival. The day of Atham comes ten days before the asterism Onam or Thiru Onam hence Atham is regarded holy and auspicious by the traditional people of Kerala.
Chithira – Day Two
Chithira is the second day of celebrations in the ten-day-long Onam festivities. There are not any marked rituals for the day but people offer their prayers to evoke divine blessings.
Chodhi – Day Three
Third day of the ten-day-long carnival of Onam is called Chothi or Chodi. The day is marked by buzz and lot of activities. Frenzied shopping can be witnessed in the market place all over the state as everybody buys new clothes and accompanying accessories for the grand festival of Onam. Gifts are also procured for everyone in the house including the servants. Some shopping is also done for closed relatives. With the increasing hype for the festival, thanks to the media, shopkeepers too come up with innovative incentives to lure the customers who are in the mood to spend. These days even electronic good keepers offer attractive discounts to cash in on the bullish mood of the festivities.
Visakam – Day Four
Vishagam or Visakam is the fourth day of the Onam festivities. As the number of days left for the big days are very few now, excitement becomes palpable amongst the people of Kerala. Brisk activities in the market and households can be witnessed on the day of Visakam.
Anizham – Day Five
Anizham is the fifth day of Onam celebrations. High point of the day is the grand Snake Boat Race event called Vallamkali, which takes place on the fifth day of the Onam. The hugely popular competition happens on the banks of the river Pamba at Aranmulla. A multitude of domestic and international tourists come to witness the colourful spectacle of the race.
Thriketa – Day Six
Triketta or Thriketa is the sixth day of the carnival of Onam. A feeling of joy and jubilation can be felt amongst the people of Kerala at this time. Cultural programmes and social gatherings are organised by various cultural societies all over the state. People of all religions caste and creed participate in these events as the festival of Onam has come to be seen as a secular festival. Government of India too celebrates Onam as the National Festival of Kerala.
Moolam – Day Seven
Moolam is the seventh day of the festival of Onam which continues for ten days. With just two days left for the festival now, enthusiasm grips the state of Kerala. Bright colours of the festivities can be seen in commercial areas of the state where the shops are loaded with goods and people are jostling for a space. There is hustle and bustle everywhere as excited people do their last bit of shipping. What is even more apparent on the faces of millions of people of Kerala is the spirit of joy and happiness. People get the feel that the time to meet their Onathappan has just come. A year long wait is going to be over and there will be celebrations all around.
Pooradam – Day Eight
Pooradam is the eighth day of the ten-day-long carnival of Onam. The day holds significance in Onam festivities. Devotees create clay idols in the shape of small pyramids called a Ma. As the idol is created on the day of Pooradam, it is also called Poorada Uttigal. Each Ma is decorated with flowers.
Uthradam – Day Nine
Utradam or Uthradam is the ninth and the penultimate day of the festival of Onam. There is jubilation all around as people prepare to welcome the spirit of King Mahabali. In some regions of Kerala festivities of Onam starts in a full fledged way from Utradam itself. It is a public holiday on that day. Some people also call Utradam as the first Onam and the next day Thiru Onam as the second Onam.
Thiruvonam – Day Ten
Thiruvonam Aashamsakal ! The enchanting state of Kerala reverberates with the chants of Onaashmsakal, “To everyone, Onam Wishes” as people exchange warm greetings of the occasion on the tenth and the most important day of the carnival of Onam. People believe that it is on Thiru Onam that the spirit of legendary King Mahabali visits the state of Kerala.
Essence of Onam
The ten day festival is a time of leaving behind all tensions and worries, and get soaked in festive fervor. It is a harvest festival which brings joy and happiness in people’s life. Have a glimpse of secular spirit when people from all sects of community celebrates the festival with much pomp and gaiety. The festival reflects the the strong faith of Kerala people and their belief in the legendary past and power of prayers and worship.
The festival coincides with the harvest season in Kerala thus providing another great reason to celebrate. One would find it hard to complain about anything at this time of year. The weather is benign and all is right with the world. The lush landscape of the region is also in jubilatory mood as can be seen by its radiant beauty. It adds to the festive spirit with pleasantly warm and sunny days. The fields are with a bountiful harvest. The farmers rejoice as they watch the visible results of their hard labour with pride. The Malayalam New Year is a time to celebrate for many reasons.
Children await the arrival of the festivities with scarcely concealed excitement. They can look forward to receiving new clothes, toys and every conceivable goody they could imagine or ask for. The great gathering of numerous uncles, aunts, grandmas and hosts of other relatives, all eager to oblige children’s wishes in delighted haste and happiness, make a kid’s idea of heaven complete. It is also a time for homecoming and nostalgic reunions for those Keralites that are spread out over all points of the globe. Their presence adds to the joy of families at this time of celebration.
The most interesting facet of Onam which sets it apart from the rest of festivals around the world is the sports activities and cultural events which are organized all over the state. Number of sports and games events are organized to add more thrill to the festival celebrations. Some of the major sports includes Kutukutu, Talappanthukali and combats such as Attakalam and Kayyankali. All together these sport events are known as Onakalikal.
Onam is also the carnival season of Kerala, people actively engaging in a variety of activities like boat racing, pulikali (dressing up like tigers or leopards on two feet), ball games, playing marbles, playing dramas and the list of activities is endless. Women also engage in dancing, singing etc. There will be also dance performances of Mohiniyattom, kathakali, etc. and martial arts performance of Kalaripayattu.
The main attraction of ‘thiruvonam’ day is a special onam feast, locally called onam sadya or onasadya, which is serving of rice with atleast 15 side dishes on banana leaves. Onasadya will be there in each and every home in Kerala. There is also some dress code to eat the onasadya. Men wear white dhotis with shirt and women white or ivory colored saree and blouse with borders embroidered with golden threads, called kasavu. Children will get a yellow piece of cloth called onakkohdi or manjakkohdi.
The main shopping item dress and dress materials. Everyone will buy clothes for themselves and as gifts for their loved ones. Onam festival is the biggest shopping season. Over 90% of sale of handicrafts, artifacts are during this season. Electronics, textile items get about 50% of the annual sales in onam season.
Onam is the passion of the people of Kerala. And, pride of India….we hope you get a chance to attend this great and popular Indian festival this year!
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