Celebrated with the ultimate fervor across God’s very own country– Onam is the grandest festival of Kerala. It marks the end of monsoon, and a rich and healthy harvest season is celebrated through out the ‘Coconut Land’. It also symbolizes the return of King Mahabali to his ancient kingdom. While the celebrations begin in the Malayalam month of Chingam(August–September, first month as per Malayalam calendar), the festivities and celebrations last for 10 days. Onam is the time for family get-together, prayers, feasts, enthralling songs, traditional dances, boat races and fairs and competitions. Kerala is at its cultural best.
The Onam Legend
Onam glorifies the return of King Mahabali popularly called ‘Maveli’ and ‘Onathappan’ to the his earthly abode of Kerala every year. The festival is celebrated with fervor as King Mahabali is greatly respected by his disciples. Legend has it, that King Mahabali the demon king, once ruled the beautiful state of Kerala. The King was considered to be wise, sensible and extremely generous. It is believed, that during the reign of the demon king, Kerala flourished, witnessed a golden era. The countrymen lived happy and peaceful lives and no discrimination was made on the basis of caste or class. There was no crime or corruption in the state. His reign spread out from the earthly realm and went on to conquer the world and the heavens too. On this the God’s felt disputed and they were forced to bring about his downfall, granting him a boon, that was the ability to visit the flourishing country once every year.
The celebrations of Onam last for a period of 10 days. The first day marks ‘Atham’ when it is believed that King Mahabali starts the preparations to visit his people and kingdom. People offer prayers in their homes and visit the temples. Traditional rangoli made from seasonal flowers commonly known as the Pookalam is made in the house courtyard, as a symbol to welcome the King. Traditional dances namely the Kumattikali, Pullikali, Mohiniyattam and Kaikotikali are performed during the festival.
‘Sadhya’, the traditional banquet serves as a great importance for the locals. It is a variety of pure vegetarian dishes traditionally served on a banana leaf in during the festival. The feast is prepared mainly by the men and around 24 – 28 dishes are served in a single course. When the festivities are held on a larger scale, the number of dishes increases to 65 as an essential part of the celebrations.
Other Special Festivities during Onam
There are several special events and celebrations that are a part of the grand Onam celebrations. Among the most popular of these are the Snake Boat Races also known as the Vallamkali. The Snake Canoes are huge wooden boats that measure 30 to 60 meters in length (approximately the 100–120 foot long). With a raised prow, these boats are greatly impressive and can accommodate around 90 – 100 rowers at a time.
Besides others, are spectacular displays of fireworks and merry processions and the very famous masked dances of Kathakali, Mohiniyattam and Pulikali. Pulikali or the ‘play of the tiger’ is a dance performance that depicts the themes of tiger hunting. Onam is a spectacular festival bring unity between people. During the festival friends and families visit each other and the Pookalams continue to get bigger and colorful.
Savor the rich cultural heritage of Kerala and witness the cultural fiesta with decorated elephants, flowers, traditional games and elaborate feasts.