What is Onam ?
Onam is the biggest and the most important festival of the state of Kerala. It is a harvest festival and is celebrated with joy and enthusiasm all over the state by people of all communities. According to a popular legend, the festival is celebrated to welcome King Mahabali, whose spirit is said to visit Kerala at the time of Onam.
Onam is celebrated in the beginning of the month of Chingam, the first month of Malayalam Calendar (Kollavarsham). This corresponds with the month of August-September according to Gregorian Calendar.
Carnival of Onam lasts from four to ten days. First day, Atham and tenth day, Thiruonam are most important of all. Popularity and presentation of rich culture of the state during the carnival made Onam the National Festival of Kerala in 1961. Elaborate feasts, folk songs, elegant dances, energetic games, elephants, boats and flowers all are a part of the dynamic festival called Onam.
Government of India has taken due notice of this vibrant and colorful festival. It promotes Onam internationally in a big way and celebrates ‘Tourist Week’ for Kerala during Onam celebrations. Thousands of domestic and foreign tourists visit Kerala to be a part of Onam.
Story goes that during the reign of mighty asura (demon) king, Mahabali, Kerala witnessed its golden era. Every body in the state was happy and prosperous and king was highly regarded by his subjects. Apart from all his virtues, Mahabali had one shortcoming. He was egoistic. This weakness in Mahabali’s character was utilized by Gods to bring an end to his reign as they felt challenged by Mahabali’s growing popularity. However, for all the good deed done by Mahabali, God granted him a boon that he could annually visit his people with whom he was so attached.
It is this visit of Mahabali that is celebrated as Onam every year. People make all efforts to celebrate the festival in a grand way and impress upon their dear King that they are happy and wish him well.
Onasadhya is prepared on the last day of Onam, called Thiruonam. People of Kerala wish to depict that they are happy and prosperous to their dear King Mahabali whose spirit is said to visit Kerala at the time of Onam Legend goes that Mahabali who was so attached to his people that he requested Gods to allow him to visit Kerala every year. People of Kerala wish to convey that they are enjoying the same age of prosperity as was witnessed during the reign of King Mahabali by preparing a grand Onasadhya.
Rich and the poor, everybody prepares Onasadya in a grand fashion as people of Kerala are extremely devotional and passionate when it comes to Onasadya. So much so that, it has lead to saying, ‘Kaanam Vittum Onam Unnanam’. Meaning – men go to the extend of selling all their possessions for one Onam Sathya.
Rich cultural heritage of Kerala comes out in its best form and spirit during the ten day long festival. It is indeed a treat to be a part of the grand carnival. People of Kerala make elaborate preparations to celebrate it in the best possible manner. The most impressive part of Onam celebration is the grand feast called Onasadya, prepared on Thiruonam. It is a nine course meal consisting of 11 to 13 essential dishes. Onasadya is served on banana leaves and people sit on a mat laid on the floor to have the meal.Another enchanting feature of Onam is Vallamkali, the Snake Boat Race, held on the river Pampa. It is a colourful sight to watch the decorated boat oared by hundreds of boatmen amidst chanting of songs and cheering by spectators.
There is also a tradition to play games, collectively called Onakalikal, on Onam. Men go in for rigorous sports like Talappanthukali (played with ball), Ambeyyal (Archery), Kutukutu and combats called Kayyankali and Attakalam. Women indulge in cultural activities. They make intricately designed flower mats called, Pookalam in the front courtyard of house to welcome King Mahabali. Kaikotti kali and Thumbi Thullal are two graceful dances performed by women on Onam. Folk performances like Kummatti kali and Pulikali add to the zest of celebrations.
Best of Season and Weather
Onam is also a harvest festival. It is celebrated at a time when everything appears so nice and good. The beautiful landscape of Kerala can be seen in its full radiance at this time of the Malayalam New Year. Weather, it seems, also seeks to be a part of the festival. It contributes by becoming pleasantly warm and sunny. Fields look brilliant with a bountiful harvest. Farmers feel on top of the world as they watch the result of their hard labour with pride.
Children’s Joy and Homecoming
Children eagerly wait for the arrival of the carnival. Why shouldn’t they. It is time for them to get new clothes, toys and everything else they asked for or thought of. Numerous uncles, aunts and grandmas grace their wishes with delight. It is also a time for homecoming for people staying away from the families. Their arrival multiples the joy of the festival several folds.
Welcoming a Very Special Visitor
Onam awaits one very special visitor, Kerala’s most loved legendary King Maveli. He is the King who once gave the people a golden era in Kerala. The King is so much attached to his kingdom that it is believed that he comes annually from the nether world to see his people living happily. It is in honour of King Mahabali, affectionately called Onathappan, that Onam is celebrated.
Womenfolk make special arrangements to welcome Onathappan. Flower carpets are laid in the front courtyards with dedication and full sincerity. A grand meal is prepared on the day of Thiru Onam. It is on this day that Maveli’s spirit visits Kerala. Lip smacking meal consists of best of Kerala cuisine including avial, sambhar, rasam, parippu and the payasam.
Athachamyam is a grand procession that marks the beginning of the grand carnival of Onam. It is celebrated with lot of fan-fair on the day of Atham at Thirpunithura and Piravam. The event recalls a royal tradition when Maharajas of erstwhile Kochi State as a custom traveled to the Thripunithura Fort with their entire entourage. Today, even in the absence of the King, the custom retains its regal charm. Highpoints of the event are performances by folk artistes, caparisoned elephants, musical ensembles and dance shows by skilled artsites.
Snake Boat Race
The most enthralling and popular of all such customary events is the Vallamkali or the Snake Boat Race. The event is held just a few days before Thiru Onam. Though the event takes place at several places in the city, the most important of them all is the one organised at Alappuzha. A large number of big and decorated boats called chundan vallams participate with hundreds of boatmen. Rowing of boats on the rhythm provided by the songs and music of the drum makes it a captivating event.
This is another magnificent boat event organised in connection with Onam. This annual event takes place on the day of Uthrittathi Asterism at Aranmula. This is meant to relive mythology that narrates a story of Lord Krishna crossing the river on that particular day. It is believed that the spirit of the Lord is present on all the boats hence there is no competition of any sort in this event. A large number of people come to watch the joyous event. Some also offer Valla Sady as a vazhipadu (offering) in the temples on this occasion.
Procession of Decked Elephants
Trichur, the cultural capital of Kerala, marks the festival in its own beautiful style. Here, a procession of decorated elephants in carried out on the streets. It’s a resplendent site to watch the bejeweled elephants walking on the streets in their full majesty and grandeur. Children particularly take great delight in watching the show of their favourite animal. Songs, dance and merry making are a part of this event.
This is another recreational folk dance from the state of Kerala, particularly South Malabar. Clad in plaited grass and a huge colourful wooden mask, Kummattikali performers can be seen entertaining people on the festive occasion of Onam. Children are a huge fan of the performance. Mythological and folk themes are enacted on the beat of onavillu in Kummattikali.
An integral tradition of Onam, Pookalam has come up as an art form. Competitions for decorating Pookalams are organised all over the state. They are extremely popular and witness the participation of large number of Pookalam designers and onlookers. Creativity of the designers in unleashed through such competitions as they come up with innovative designs each year.
Kaikotti kali / Thiruvathirakali
Kaikottikali is an elegant clap dance performed on the occasion of Onam. In this women sing songs praising the legendary King Mahabali and dance around the pookalam. At the centre of this is placed a lit bronze lamp called nilavilakku. It is a captivating sight to watch troupe of female dancers performing in their traditional Kerala attire consisting of gold bordered off-white mundu-neriyathu and decked with a fragrant gajra in their hair.
Women also perform Thumbi Thullal as a custom in Onam. It is a folk dance performed by a group of women who sit in the formation of circle.The lead performer sits inside the circle who initiates the song which is taken up by other singers. Clap dance is also performed by the women dressed in their best clothes and ethnic jewelery.
This is a collective name for all the games played on the occasion of Onam. Traditional games of Onam constitute rigorous sports like Talappanthukali, Kutukutu and combats like Kayyankali and Attakalam. Archery is also a part of Onakalikal. Senior members go in for indoor games like cards and chess. Sports events are organised by various social and cultural organisations all over the state.
Beautiful Places to Enjoy the Onam festival in Kerala
An amazing Place to enjoy this Season..!!!
In this season , KODANAD Is the best and very beautiful place to enjoy the Onam festival .Kodanad is an eco tourism village.Famous Elephant training centre, One of the best ayurveda resort ‘Elephant pass Ayurveda & Yoga Retreat’ , Famous river Periyar, Famous International pilgrim church Malayattoor are situated in the lap of Kodanad. The best eco tourism place to enjoy the Kerala traditional festival, Onam with your dearones..!!