Onam is a very popular and important festival in Kerala (a southern coastal state of India) and it is celebrated with great enthusiasm for ten consecutive days. Generally, the celebration begins at the start of the month of Chingam, the first month according to the Malayalam Calendar. It falls between August and September in accordance with the Gregorian Calendar. A popular legend said, Onam is the fiesta to welcome King Mahabali as it is believed that his spirit visits Kerala within these ten days of Onam celebration.
Presentation of rich Indian culture during Onam has made it the national festival of Kerala in 1961. People of all communities participate in this carnival with equal enthusiasm and spontaneity. The government of India celebrates ‘Tourist Week’ during Onam and, as a result, thousands of native and foreign tourists go to Kerala to be a part of this colorful festival!
Importance of Onam
Onam is a festival to celebrate the arrival of the great king Mahabali. His birth indicated him as an Asur ( man with the most negative thoughts) but, he indeed was a Sur (Man with the most positive thoughts) by virtue. He sacrificed himself with everything just to be true to his words! Kerala didn’t find such a loyal king like him after his death. Every year the kings’ sacrifices and generosity are remembered with profound respect and it reminds them how blessed they were during his rule. People of Kerala, especially the kings’ true followers will celebrate Onam for eternity.
The two weeks of Onam can blow your mind with its awesomeness! People spread ‘Pookalam’ (a flower carpet) in front of their houses to welcome King Mahabali. They also make arrangement for lots of festivities and attractions to entertain themselves throughout the festival. The major attractions are-
Athachamayam marks the start of Onam. It is a street parade that makes the colorful inauguration of this festival. It includes dancers, carnival floats, decorated elephants, musicians etc. Almost all the streets and walls of Kerala are beautifully decorated as a part of this festivity.
Aranmula Snake Boat Race
Snake boat race is one of the main attractions for the boat racers. It is the most popular race that can gather the largest crowd of spectators! Generally, 50 boats participate in this race. It starts in the afternoon and continues until all the religious celebrations come to an end.
Pulikkali Tiger Play
It can be considered as a tiger festival where hundreds of people get their body painted like tigers and dance with the beats of traditional music. The dance festival ends with a price giving ceremony where the best-dressed dancer is given an award.
Kaikottikali is a clap dance show performed by women on the occasion on Onam. They sing and praise the great king Mahabali while dancing and the spectators enjoy this folk dance with great enthusiasm.
Elephant procession is one of the greatest attractions of Onam. An elephant is beautifully ornamented with gold and other metals as well as with colorful floral designs. It then marches around the whole Thrissur and interacts with people in different postures.
Photo by Rameshng
Onasadya is the traditional grand meal prepared at the day ‘Thiruonam’. Rich families prepare nine to eleven different dishes for Onasadya. This meal contains at least four to five dishes of vegetables. You can taste up to 30 different dishes if you go to the restaurants on this day!
So, I must say if you want to see the true rich heritage of Kerala, the best time to travel there is during the Onam festival. It is not just a festival, it is the manifestation of respect for the King as well as the exhibition of different forms on festivities throughout the whole celebration. The interesting rituals associated with Onam are fascinating enough to make you think of coming to Kerala again and again!
Photo by Rameshng