Onam

Significance of Onam

Onam marks the homecoming of the mythical King Mahabali who ruled Kerala in prehistoric times. Legend has it that King Mahabali was exceeding powerful and revered by all his people. His subjects were very happy and his kingdom flourished during his rule. The Gods became worried that King Mahabali was becoming more powerful than they themselves, and hence Lord Vishnu intervened in the form of a dwarf. King Mahabali lost to Lord Vishnu and was sent to Paathalam (an imaginary place below the earth). He was granted only one wish. It is said, that King Mahabali loved his people so much that he asked to visit his land once every year. Hence Onam is celebrated as King Mahabali’s homecoming each year.

Traditions of Onam

Onam falls in the month of Chingam of the Malayalam Calendar and marks the beginning of the Malayalam New Year. Onam is celebrated for ten days. The first day is Atham and the final day is Thiruvonam. Since this celebration has been passed down from centuries, there are a lot of traditions that accompany this festival. People wear new clothes, offer prayers at the temples and the younger members of the family get blessings as well as gifts on this occasion. The people dress in their tradition attire- women in white saris with a golden border and men in white shirt and Mundu. Kerala’s food, culture, art, music, rituals and traditions are on display during the Onam celebrations.

Pookalam

Pookalam is derived from two words, “Poov” meaning flower and “kalam” meaning color sketches. Hence Pookalam is similar to Rangoli, but made with flowers. The basic design is made on day one, and the size of the Pookalam is increased by adding more layers every passing day, till the tenth day. Different flowers are used each day as a particular flower is dedicated to a particular day of Onam. The traditional circular designs have evolved and today we find various other designs of Pookalam on display. A lot of Pookalam competitions are held all over Kerala during Onam.

Pookalam
Onasadya

Onasadya

Onasadya refers to the meal had on the tenth day of Onam. The meal is served on a plantain leaf and there are over 26 varieties of food served! Banana chips, Papadum, Thoran, Mezhukkupuratti, Kaalan, Olan, Avial, Sambhar, Rice, Dal, Erisheri, Rasam, Pickle, Buttermilk, Payasam etc. are some of the items served.

Boat Race

Another event that is synonymous with Onam celebrations is the Vallam Kali aka the Snake Boat Race. Boat Races during Onam are huge and people come from all over to watch. The Nehru Trophy Boat Race and Aranmula Uthrattadhi Boat Race are extremely popular in Kerala. Approximately a 100 oarsmen row a single snake boat and complete with other similar snake boats.

Boat Race
Music and Dance

Music and Dance

Music and dance are an integral part of Onam Celebrations in Kerala. Traditional dance forms like Pulikali, Thiruvathira Kali, Kaikottikal, Kummattikali, Thumbi Thullal etc. are performed all over. Thiruvathira Kali is a dance performed by women around a lamp. Pulikali is performed by grown men who are dressed (including painted) as tigers and dance to beats of instruments such as Thakil and Chenda.