Onam is the most popular festival in Kerala and is celebrated with great pomp and show. It is believed to be the National festival of Kerala. Onam is celebrated each year in the month of August-September which according to the Malayalam calendar is the first month of the year called Chingam. The festivities of the Onam last for ten days in which old and young participate with equal enthusiasm.
The word Onam is believed to have been originated from the Sanskrit word Shravanam which in Sanskrit refers to one of the 27 Nakshatars or constellations. Thiru in South India is used for anything associated with the Lord Vishnu and Thiruvonam is believed to be the Nakshatra of Lord Vishnu who pressed the great King Mahabali to the underworld with his foot.
Importance of Onam
The festival of Onam is dedicated to the King Mahabali who though was an Asur (one with more negative thoughts in his mind) by birth but was a Sur (one with more positive thoughts in his mind) by virtue. It is said that Kerala never witnessed a better time than it witnessed during the rule of King Mahabali. He was the most just king ever. None of the needy ever returned empty handed from his door. The myth of King Mahabali says that the king sacrificed himself along with every thing else he had in order to stand true to his words. Thus as a reward for his sacrifice he was blessed to be remembered by the people of Kerala and all his followers for eternity in the form of Onam festival.
If you wish to travel to Kerala to enjoy the fun and frolic of an Indian festival, then the best option would be the time of Onam. The interesting rituals associated with the festival contribute to making the celebrations of Onam a fascinating one.
Major Attractions of Onam Celebrations
Pookkalam refers to making designs with different types of flowers in front of the gate of house. With each passing day during the Onam festival, a new layer of flowers is added to the Pookalam. At some Pookalam competitions are held at some places.
This the grand meal prepared at the day Thiruonam. Onasadya meal is served on a Banana leaf and is a nine course meal having at least four to five vegetables. The number of vegetables in the meal varies from house to house but most of the well off families cooks nine to eleven dishes for the Onasadya. Restaurants offer as many as 30 dishes for the Onasadya.
This refers to all the games played at the festival of Onam. Talappanthukali which is game played with a ball is a favorite of men. They also indulge in Ambeyyal (archery). Women engage themselves in making Pookalam and performing several traditional dances.
Vallamkali Boat Race
Also known as the snake boat race, this is one of the most entertaining events of the Onam festival. Near about 100 boatmen compete with each other in a boat riding competition .The boats are decorated beautifully in different patterns. Men and women from across the city come to witness this race.
The elephant procession is one of the most awaited events of Onam. The majestic animal is decorated with flowers, ornaments in gold and other metals. The elephant is made to take a round of whole Thrissur where this procession is held. The elephant dances and interacts with people through small gestures.
Other major attraction of the festival includes the folk dances performed by women. Kaikottikali is a clap dance performed on the occasion of Onam. Women performing the dance sing praises of King Mahabali. Women also perform a dance in a circle. This dance form is called Thumbi Thullal.
Frequently asked questions about Onam
What is Onam?
Onam is a festival celebrated by Malayalis in Kerala or in any other part of the world to mark the homecoming of the Great King Mahabali. It is also said to mark the harvest season for Kerala. The festival lasts for ten days and is celebrated with a great splendour.
When is Onam celebrated?
The great festival of Onam is celebrated usually in the month of August-September. This period of time is the first month of year according to the Malayali calender (Kollavarsham). The Onam festival spans over a period of ten days and these ten days are the most lively and entertaining days in Kerala when every one is gripped with the festive fever. Onam is on 7th September 2014.
Onam is celebrated at this time of the year primarily for two reasons. One is that this is time for the visit of once a great king of Kerala- King Mahabali. According to a common belief the king visits the earth from his kingdom in Underground (Patal) and blesses his subjects who leave no stone unturned to welcome their much revered king. Ten days festivities are associated with movement of King Mahabali from Patal to the time he reaches Earth and goes back to his world. This also is harvest season in Kerala. Thus, this festival is also celebrated as the harvest festival of Kerala where people gather and celebrate arrival of new crops.
Why is Onam Celebrated?
Onam is celebrated to mark the homecoming of the King Mahabali who is believed to be the greatest king ever in Kerala. It is believed that he rules the underworld as per the orders of Lord Vishnu and visits his subjects once in a year and this occasion is called Onam which for Malayalis all across the world is an extravaganza.
Where is Onam celebrated?
Onam is celebrated by the Malayalis all over India and the world but it is primarily celebrated in Kerala in India where its glitter is equivalent to that of a national festival.
What is the duration of the Onam festival?
The festival of Onam lasts for ten days. Each day is called by a different name and there are specific celebrations on each of the ten days. There also are post Onam celebrations in Kerala which adds two more days to the celebrations.
How is Onam celebrated in Kerala?
The festival of Onam brings along with it all the colours of Kerala-its history, its culture, its beliefs. Designing of beautiful flower carpets called Pookalam, preparation of banquet lunch, organization of snake boat races, Puli Kali, and the Kaikottikkali dance are the major attractions of the festival.
What are other names for the festival of Onam?
Onam is called Thiru-Onam or Thiruvonam (Sacred Onam Day). Another name for the festival is the 'Sravanmahotsav'.
Which are the places in Kerala most famous for celebrating Onam?
Onam is celebrated throughout the Kerala with a lot of gaiety and fun but the some of the place where masses gather to celebrate the festival include Tripunithura, near Ernakulam in greater Kochi where Athachamayam festival is celebrated. People dress up as tigers and lions and dance at Swaraj Round in Thrissur. The boat race in Aranmula is another major attraction of the festival.
What are the special dishes cooked for the festival of Onam in Kerala?
The cooking of elaborated meals Known as Onam-Sadya is an important part of the Onam festival. These meals served on Banana leaves include rice along with at least 4 varieties of dishes along with traditional pickles and papadam and dessert called 'payasam'.
What are the major attractions or events of the Onam festival?
The ten day Onam festival is an occasion of numerous events. Some of the most popular and interesting events are Pokkalam, Onasadya, Onakalikal, Vallamkali Boat Race and Elephant Procession.
Ten Days of Onam
The festival of Onam lasts for ten long days and each day has a unique name, significance and different activities attached to it:
Day 1 (Atham): This is the first day of Onam when Mahabali supposedly starts his preparation to head towards earth. It is marked by the beginning of designing Pookalam (only with Yellow flowers), the size of which eventually grows with each day. The statues of Vamana and King Mahabali are also installed in houses.
Day 2 (Chithira): The second day adds another layer of flowers to Pookalam and cleaning of houses starts on Chithira.
Day 4 (Vishakam): This day marks the beginning of several competitions that are held during Onam.
Day 5 (Anizham): This is the day when Vallamkali Boat Race starts in many parts of Kerala.
Day 6 (Thriketa): By this time most of schools get closed and people start devoting all their time to the celebrations.
Day 7 (Moolam): This is the seventh day in the Onam celebrations. At several places Ona Sadya and the dances related to the festival starts being performed. The state has been decorated beautifully by this time.
Day 8 (Pooradam): This is a day when the statues of Vamana and King Mahabli are washed and installed in the middle of the Pookalam which is very big in size now.
Day 9 (Uthradom): The ninth day or the eve of Onam is of a great significance. People buy fresh vegetables and women cook the traditional meals which are very grand. King Mahabali, it is believed reaches the state of Kerala this day.
Day 10 (Thiruonam): This is the final day when all the preparations are culminated into final celebrations. People take bath early in the morning, distribute gifts and special prayers are held in temples. The grand Thiruona Sadya (Onam Special Meal) is prepared in all the households. Several competitions are held in the different parts of Kerala.
Ten Years Calender of Onam
Last Updated on : September 4, 2014