Popularly known as “God's own country”, the state of Kerala is truly a heaven on earth and carries a rich cultural heritage. Kerala celebrates various festivals every year but the one festival that stands out from the crowd is the annual harvest festival of Onam.
Bringing in the true spirit of brotherhood, the 10-day festival is celebrated with great enthusiasm and joy in various places in and outside India. However, the only way to witness the originality of Onam is to experience the festival in its state of origin, that is Kerala. Here’s a glimpse of what experiencing Onam in Kerala would be like.
Onam is the annual harvest festival of the Malayalis, which also marks the welcome of the spirit of the mythological King Mahabali. It is a grand 10 day festival, with Thiruvonam (the tenth day of Onam) being the main day of the festival. Onam is considered the “National Festival of Kerala” and is celebrated with great pomp. There’s feasting of delicious food, cultural dances, and many more events that happen during these ten days all around the state. You must visit Kerala to witness the joy and excitement with which it is celebrated.
Also read: 7 Dishes You Must Try On Your Trip To Kerala.
Observing the Chingam month of the Malayalam calendar, Onam falls between the months of August and September of the Gregorian calendar.
Now coming to why this festival is celebrated, well, there’s an interesting story behind it. As per legends, Mahabali, a powerful king took over the three worlds by defeating the Gods. He was such a great ruler that the people in his kingdom eventually stopped approaching the gods for their needs. Obviously, this fact enraged all the Gods, so they requested Lord Vishnu to do something about it. However, since Mahabali was a loyal devotee of Lord Vishnu, he didn’t do anything but not for long.
One day, Mahabali made an announcement that he would grant all the wishes of his people. So, Lord Vishnu decided to take this up as an opportunity to test Mahabali and went to him in the avatar of a little boy named Vamana. He made a wish to him to get as much space as his three footsteps would cover, surprised by the wish the king agreed.
Later Vamana grew up to a giant’s size and took one footstep on the whole earth, one on the skies, and there wasn’t any space left for the third step. That’s when Mahabali realized it wasn’t an ordinary kid. Now, since he vowed to grant his wish, he came ahead and asked Vamana to take the third step on his head. Vamana took the last step and sent Mahabali to Suthalam (alternative heaven). King Mahabali accepted this but requested Vamana to let him visit his land once every year. So, Onam is celebrated to commemorate the visit of the spirit of King Mahabali to his land to meet his people.
Also read: What Is Poovar Island In Kerala.
If you’re in Kerala during the festival of Onam, then here are some of the top attractions you should not miss out on.
Giving it a grand start to the 10-day Onam celebrations is the glorious procession of Athachamayam. Athachamayam is a majestic parade showcasing the culture and traditions of Kerala through some captivating art forms. It’s called Attachamayam because of the fact that the event takes place on the first day of Onam, i.e. Atham.
Atham marks the beginning of the festivities for the welcome of King Mahabali’s spirit. With the hoisting of the festival flag and drums and traditional music playing in the background, the parade is full of people dressed up in folk costumes and dolled-up elephants. The parade starts from Thripunithura and goes all the way to the Thrikkakara Temple. Athachamayam is a sight you must see!
Also read: Overview Of Theyyam.
Vallamkali or snake boat races of Kerala is a world-famous event that begins on Anizham (the fifth day of Onam). Whether you’re visiting Kerala for Onam or not, this event has to be on your itinerary. During Onam, you can witness several colorfully decorated snake boats called Chundan Vallams being rowed by hundreds of oarsmen competing against each other in the Pamba river.
If even one of the oarsmen slips out of rhythm it could lead to the boat capsizing, so the sync of the oarsmen is to be really appreciated. Lakhs of people from within and outside India come to witness this spectacular event that starts from River Pumba. Some of the best boat races to watch are Aranmulla Uthrittathi, which is the oldest boat race with over 50 snake boats competing, and the Nehru Trophy boat race.
One of the main popular attractions to witness during Onam is the Thrikkakara temple in Kochi. Housing the idol of Vamana as the main deity, this temple is closely associated with the Onam celebrations. A day before Thiruvonam (the tenth day of Onam), the temple hosts a special event called Pakalpooram, during which there happens to be a parade within the temple premises.
Just like the previous 8 days, Pakalpooram kickstarts by hoisting the festival flag. Following this, the sacred idol of Vamana is carried on the elephant leading the herd of caparisoned elephants. Lined up with traditional dances of people in folk attires, music, and other cultural events, the temple possesses an enchanting beauty on this day. A visit to this temple during Onam offers a different charm and aura which you won’t find on any other day.
Get ready to witness one of the quirkiest and most enthralling events of Onam - Pulikali or the ‘play of the tigers’ or Kaduvakali. In this event, grown-up men paint their bodies with stripes of orange, red, yellow, and black and dress up as tigers, and dance to the rolling beats of traditional instruments like Chenda, Thakil, and Udukku. They even host competitions to declare the best dancer and the best-dressed tiger.
The men are required to get rid of their body hair and takes about 4 hours of patience to completely paint the body of one man. And, to remove the paint from their bodies they need to wash it with kerosene. Pulikali might seem like a child’s play, but there’s a lot of work that goes into the 2000-year-old art form. And, the best place to watch this play is at the Swaraj Round in Thrissur.
Other than Pulikali and the various dance forms that you might have heard of, there are various other attractive traditional dances that take place, especially during Onam.
Thiruvathirakali: This is a dance form in which women dress up in traditional sarees called Kasavu Mundus or sarees, and gracefully dance to devotional songs encircling the Nilavillakku, a standing lamp.
Kummattikali: In this form of dance, people dress up in traditional costumes and colorful masks of Lord Krishna, Darika, Kiratha, and Narada and dance to folk music. This event can be mostly seen in Thrissur.
Pookalam or Onapookalam is the Keralite version of the colorful carpet of rangoli. Except, in this version, the carpet is decorated with flower petals. The Pookalam progresses in size and design over each passing day of the Onam festival. The first layer of the floral carpet is laid on the first day of Atham with only yellow petals called Athapoo and is followed by different colored petals every other day till the last day on Thiruvonam. On the eighth day of Poorada Uttigal, a clay statue of Mahabali is placed in the middle of the Pookalam and is decorated with flowers, as a gesture to welcome King Mahabali to his land.
No Onam is ever complete without an Onasadhya. Imagine a banana leaf studded with over 25-30 varieties of dishes spread over it. That is exactly what Onasadhya, the traditional feast looks like. Mouth-watering isn’t it? Shopping for fresh fruits, vegetables and other ingredients required for the feast begins from Vishakham (the fourth day) itself. Some of the dishes prepared for the feast include sambar, rice, avail, olan, dal, pachadi, coconut chutney, injipuli, and various other vegetarian delicacies. And, just like how every meal is incomplete without a dessert, Onasadhya is complete only with a glass of payasam (sweet pudding).
Also read: Experiencing The Food In Kerala.
From Attachamayam to Onasadhya, each of these features make Onam special. Onasadhya and Pookalam are something you will get to see at every other Malayalee’s house on Onam in or outside Kerala. The glitz and glamor of Onam in Kerala is unlike any other state. The graceful traditional dances and colorful events like Pulikali and Vallamkali are the essences of the festival. And, you can only completely soak in the spirit of Onam when you’re in Kerala to behold its cultural beauty.
How Is Onam Celebrated In Kerala?
In Kerala, Onam the annual harvest festival is celebrated with color and enthusiasm. Onam in Kerala is celebrated for 10 days with various events and rituals spread over these 10 days. Some of the events are Athachamayam, Pakalpooram, Pulikali, and Vallamkali.
What Is The Onam Festival In Kerala?
Onam is celebrated to signify the harvest season of the state. There’s also the mythical legend of King Mahabali who was defeated by Vamana and given the chance to visit his land once a year. And, the festival of Onam marks the welcome of the King’s spirit.
What Activities Are Held In Kerala On The Occasion Of Onam?
On the occasion of Onam, various activities like Vallamkali (boat race), Pulikali (play of the tigers), Kummatikali (masked folk dance), Onathallu (martial arts), Tug of War, Thumbi Thulal (women’s dance), many others.
What Is The Most Important Festival In Kerala?
Onam festival is the main festival of Kerala. Celebrated between the months of August-September, this festival marks the beginning of the harvest season.
Why Onam Is Celebrated For 10 Days?
It is believed that the mythological King Mahabali arrives in Kerala on the day of Thiruvonam, and so preparations are what takes place over the previous 9 days. So, Onam is celebrated over 10 days to glorify his arrival.
Which Game Is An Important Part Of The Onam Festival In Kerala?
Vallamkali, which is the snake boat race is one of the prominent features of Onam in Kerala. It is the race among long snake-like boats rowed by hundreds of oarsmen in sync. Many people from all over the world come especially to attend this event.
Which Is The Most Exciting Part Of Onam?
Honestly, there are various parts of Onam that make it exciting. However, nothing can beat an amazing feast. So Onasadhya is the most exciting part of Onam, as you get to devour over 25-30 varieties of dishes.
What Is Kerala Known For?
Kerala is known for its vibrant green environment, gorgeous beaches, and beautiful backwaters. Other than the natural beauty it also has a rich cultural heritage and has many flavorful delicacies as its specialty.