Onam is the biggest festival in the South Indian state of Kerala. It falls during the first month of Malayalee calendar which is Chingam (August – September) and marks the homecoming of the legendary King Mahabali. The festival lasts for ten days and is linked to many elements of Kerala’s culture and tradition. Intricate flower carpets, elaborate banquet lunch, Snake Boat races and the Kaikottikali dance all play a part in the festival. For this festival, people wear new clothes: men a shirt and mundu, (a full length off-white sarong), women mundu and a golden bordered shoulder drape called Nariathu. Onam is the harvest festival in Kerala.
Onam is an ancient festival which still survives in the Modern times. Kerals’s rice harvest festival and the festival of rain flowers which fell on the Malayalam month of Chingam celebrated the annual visit from pathalam of King Maveli. Onam is unique since king Maveli is reverred by people of Kerala from prehistory.
According to the legend, Kerala witnessed its golden era during the reign of King Mahabali. Everybody in the state was happy and prosperous and the king was highly regarded by his subjects. He was that much highly regarded among the subjects that even the Gods under Indra became jealous of Mahabali, they approached Mahavishnu claiming that Mahabali is a threat to them. Mahavishnu disguising himself as a little boy appeared before him and tricked him to Pathalam, the Underworld. However, impressed by his good character, Mahavishnu granted him a boon that he could annually visit his people with whom he was so attached.
It is this visit of Mahabali that is celebrated as Onam every year. People celebrate the festival in a grand way and impress upon their dear King that they are happy and wish him well.
The rich cultural heritage of Kerala comes out in its best form and spirit during the ten day long festival. The most impressive part of Onam celebration is the grand feast called Onasadya, prepared on Thiruonam. It is a nine course meal consisting of 11 to 13 essential dishes. Onasadya is served on banana leaves and people sit on a mat laid on the floor to have the meal.
Another enchanting feature of Onam is Vallamkali, the Snake Boat Race, held on the river Pampa. It is a colourful sight to watch the decorated boat oared by hundreds of boatmen amidst chanting of songs and cheering by spectators.
There is also a tradition to play games, collectively called Onakalikal, on Onam. Men go in for rigorous sports like Talappanthukali (played with a 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 the 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.
- Thiruvananthapuram: Capital City
- Kollam: The Cashew City
- Pathanamthitta: Pilgrim Capital
- Kottayam: City of Letters
- Alappuzha: Venice of the East
- Idukki: The Spice Hills
- Ernakulam: Queen of Arabian Sea
- Thrissur: Cultural Capital
- Palakkad: The Rice Bowl
- Malappuram: Land of Scenic Hills
- Kozhikode: City of Spices
- Wayanad: Land of Paddy Fields
- Kannur: Land of Looms
- Kasargod: The Harkwillia