Onam is the biggest and the most important festival of the state of Kerala. It is a harvest festival and is celebrated with joy and enthusiasm all over the state by people of all communities.

Onam is celebrated in the beginning of the month of Chingam, the first month of Malayalam Calendar (Kollavarsham). This corresponds with the month of August-September according to Gregorian Calendar.

Carnival of Onam lasts for ten days. First day, Atham and tenth day, Thiruonam are most important of all. Popularity and presentation of rich culture of the state during the carnival made Onam the National Festival of Kerala in 1961. Elaborate feasts, folk songs, elegant dances, energetic games, elephants, boat races and flowers all are a part of the dynamic festival called Onam.

Rich cultural heritage of Kerala comes out in its best form and spirit during the ten day long festival.People of Kerala make elaborate preparations to celebrate Onam in the best possible manner.

The Government of India promotes Onam internationally in a big way and celebrates ‘Tourist Week’ for Kerala during Onam celebrations. Thousands of domestic and foreign tourists visit Kerala to be a part of Onam.

Onam Celebrations

It is believed that there once lived a wise and generous asura (demon) king, Mahabali. He was highly regarded by his subjects and everybody was happy in in his kingdom.

Gods felt challenged with the growing popularity of Mahabali. They seeked help from Lord Vishnu who was worshiped by King Mahabali. Lord Vishnu took the avatar of a poor and dwarf Brahmin, called Vamana and came to the kingdom of Mahabali just after his morning prayers, when the King gave boons to the Brahmin.

The disguised Lord Vishnu asked for as much land as could be covered by his three steps. The King made a promise to do so. Suddenly, Vamana increased to a massive size. With his one step he covered the whole of the sky and with the other he covered the whole of earth. He then asked for a place to put his third step. King realised that the boy was no ordinary Brahmin and asked Vamana to to put his third step on his head.

The boy did so, pushing Mahabali in the nether world, the patala. Lord Vishnu was pleased with King Mahabali generosity and granted him a boon. Deeply attached with his people, the King said he would like to visit Kerala and his people every year. Lord Vishnu was pleased to grant the request. It is this homecoming of King Mahabali that is celebrated as Onam every year.

Pookalam also known as ‘Aththa-Poo’ is an intricate and colourful arrangement of flowers laid on the front courtyard of the house. Tradition of decorating Pookalam is extremely popular in Kerala and is followed as a ritual in every household during ten-day-long Onam celebrations.Pookkalam

Athapoovu are usually circular in shape and multi-tiered colourful arrangements of flowers, petals and leaves. Use of powder colours, desiccated coconut or artificial flowers is prohibited.Idols of Mahabali and Vishnu are placed in the center of the Pookalam and worshiped.

Ritual of making the flower mats continues for all ten days of Onam. Its a big creative task, as designers have to think of a new design ever day.

Various flowers are used on each day as a specific flower is dedicated to each day of Onam. Commonly used flowers include Thumba, Kakka Poovu, Thechipoovu, Mukkutti, Chemparathy , Konginipoo , Hanuman Kireedom and Chethi . Of all these flowers, Thumba flowers are given more importance in Pookalam as they are small in size and glitter in the the soft rays of the sun. Thumba Poo’ is also considered to be the favourite flower of Lord Shiva and King Mahabali was a devout worshipper of Shiva.

Onasadhya is the most delicious part of the grand festival called Onam. It is considered to be the most elaborate and grand meal prepared by any civilisation or cultures in the world. It’s a feast which if enjoyed once is relished for years. Ona Sadya

Onasadhya is prepared on the last day of Onam, called Thiruonam.People of Kerala wish to convey that they are enjoying the same age of prosperity as was witnessed during the reign of King Mahabali by preparing a grand Onasadhya.

Rich and the poor, everybody prepares Onasadya in a grand fashion as people of Kerala are extremely devotional and passionate when it comes to Onasadya. So much so that, it has lead to saying, ‘Kaanam Vittum Onam Unnanam’. Meaning – men go to the extend of selling all their possessions for one Onam Sadya.

All together there are 11 essential dishes which have to prepared for Onasadya. Number of dishes may at times also go upto 13. Onasadya is consumed with hands.

Traditional Onam Sadya meal comprises of different varieties of curries, upperies , pappadam, pickles of various kinds, payasams and prathamans or puddings of various descriptions. Fruits and digestives are also part of the meal.

The food has to be served on a tender Banana leaf, laid with the end to the left. A strict order of serving the dishes one after the another is obeyed. Besides, there are clear directions as to what will be served in which part of the banana leaf.

There are some rituals which need to be followed. First full course meal is served for Lord Ganapathi in front of a lighted oil lamp (Nila Vilakku). This is in accordance with the Malayalese trend of starting everything in the name and presence of God.

These days Onadaya has toned down a little due to the urban and hectic living style.

Vallam Kali is another enchanting facet of the festival of Onam .Varios races are held during the five days after Thiruonam.The most importent of them is the Uthrittathi Vallamkali at Aranmula.Palliodams

There is a legend behind this very electrifying event. The story goes that once about 10 kilometers up the river Pamba from Aranmulla, the head of the Katoor Mana, a Nambudiri family, offered his daily prayers and was waiting to feed a poor man to complete the ritual. After waiting for long, Brahmin closed his eyes and started praying to Lord Krishna. As soon as he opened his eyes, he saw a ragged boy standing before him. The Brahmin lovingly gave a bath to the boy, a new set of clothes and also a sumptuous meal.

To the utter surprise of the Brahmin, the boy vanished after having the meal. He searched for the boy and spotted him at the Aranmulla Temple but the boy disappeared again. Namboodari concluded that it was no ordinary boy, but God himself. To commemorate the event, he began to bring food to the Aranmulla temple every year during the time of Onam. And, to protect the food from the river pirates, Kovilans or snake boats used to accompany the entourage.

As the tradition gained popularity, the number of snake boats also called Palliodams increased leading to the custom of a grand carnival on Uthrittathi the fifth day after Thiruonam.

Pulikali There is also a tradition to play games, collectively called Onakalikal, on Onam. Men go in for rigorous sports like Talappanthukali (played with ball), Ambeyyal (Archery), Kutukutu and combats called Kayyankali and Attakalam. Women indulge in cultural activities. They make intricately designed flower mats called, Pookalam in the front courtyard of house to welcome King Mahabali. Kaikotti kali and Thumbi Thullal are two graceful dances performed by women on Onam. Folk performances like Kummatti kali and Pulikali add to the zest of celebrations.

Kaikottikali, also known as thiruvathirakali, is a very popular, graceful and symmetric group-dance of the women of Kerala often performed during festive seasons like Thiruvathira and Onam. It is a simple and gentle dance with the lasya element predominating, even though the thandava part is also brought in occasionally, when men also participate as seen in some parts of the Malabar area.

Typically dressed in Kerala style with mandu and neriyathu and the hairbun bedecked with jasmine garlands the women dance in gay abandon, singing melodious Thiruvathira songs which are well-reputed for their literary flourish. One of the performers sing the first line of a song while the rest repeat it in chorus, clapping their hands in unison. Moving in a circle, clockwise and at time anticlockwise, at every step they gracefully bend sideways, the arms coming together in beautiful gestures, upwards and downwards and to either side, in order to clap

Thumbi thullal is a fascinating all-women folk dance, performed on the occasion of Onam. The lead performer of the dance is called ‘Thumbi’, who sits at the center of the circle of women. She starts to sing a song, while other women join her by clapping hands. As the dance proceeds, the tempo of the song increases. Thumbi, who holds a bunch of Thumba leaves, starts moving at her position, just like a possessed woman. The performance is culminated by decreasing the tempo of the song.

Oonjal Attam is another important part of Onam festivities. In the days to Thiru Onam, a swing(Oonjal) is slung on a high branch of a tree and beautifully decorated with flowers. It is a ritual of great delight for youngsters and women get on the swing and ride it by turns. Melodious songs are sung simultaneously during the oonjal and a large number of folk songs have been dedicated to this particular tradition.