Know more about ONAM

Kerala’s biggest festival is Onam, but there is a lot more to Onam than being just a festival. Onam reflects the faith of the people of Kerala; A belief in their legendary past, religion and power of worship.

Onam is the most important and biggest festival in the Indian state of Kerala. It is a vibrant and colorful crop festival and is celebrated with enthusiasm and joy all over the state by people of all communities.

Onam the harvest festival is celebrated in the beginning of the first month of Malayalam calendar (kolla Varsham) called chingam, according to Indian calendar, on the 12th day of the waxing moon in the Hindu month of Bhadon (around August September). This year Onam will celebrated on 29th August  over the Kerala and all over the GLOBE where malayali exists

There are several interesting legends behind the origin of Onam. The festival is celebrated by all in the state of Kerala, but Nambudiri Brahmins of Kerala are the most spirited when it comes to Onam celebrations as they attribute its origin to their own community.

The legend of King Mahabali is the most popular and the most fascinating of all legends behind Onam. Onam celebrates the visit of King Mahabali to the state of Kerala every year. According to mythology, the Bhagwat Purana (ancient Hindu scriptures) tells the engrossing story of Mahabali. He was a dignified, righteous and an asur (demon) king. It is said that if a person asked Mahabali for something he never return him disappointed.

The story is that once Mahabali wants to become more powerful so he decided to perform a Ashvamedha yagna. The devtas felt threatened so they rushed to Lord Vishnu and pray him to rein Mahabali in. Lord Vishnu takes his fifth reincarnation, Vamana (dwarf) and went to the bank of the holy Narmada River holding an umbrella in his hand. Mahabali stopped him and asked him for anything he desired. The dwarf simply asked him for the measure of area he would cover in three strides. Taken aback by such a trivial wish, Mahabali agreed. The dwarf came in his original form (Lord Vishnu), he took his first step on earth, the second foot was leisurely placed on the heaven and well, you could say that not much was left for the third step! So Mahabali, offered his head for the last stride of the Almighty. Vishnu promptly obliged, thus pushing Mahabali into the realms of the nether world. This wish, more than anything, proved how worthy a king he was. It is believed that since that day, Mahabali comes every year to visit this sun-dappled land of coconuts and his beloved people. This day is called Onam.

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.

Mahabali's rule is considered the golden era of Kerala. The following song is often sung over Onam: (Translation)

When Maveli, our King, ruled the land,

All the people had equality.
And people were joyful and merry;
They were all free from harm.
There was neither anxiety nor sickness,
Death of the children was never even heard of,
There were no lies,
There was neither theft nor deceit,
And no one was false in speech either.
Measures and weights were right;
No one cheated or wronged his neighbor.
When Maveli, our King, ruled the land,
All the people formed one casteless race.

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.

Onappottan, in traditional costume is a custom in northern parts of Kerala.Onappottan visists houses during the onamand gives blessings. Off late onappottan has become a rare sight, confined to villages.

This festival is celebrated for ten days period, starting from the first day Atham and continuing till tenth and the biggest day called Thiru Onam.  Onam festival is celebrated with gaiety and fervor by people of Kerala. Women get up earlier than usual, have a bath, wear fresh clothes, neatly pin string of jasmine and other seasonal flowers in their black hairs and garnish them with jewelries. Children get dressed and go to the market to buy flowers and flower petals which they bring back to their mothers and sisters. The ‘grand mother’ prepare a small part of the ground on the eastern side of the house and cow dung spread evenly on it. Then flowers are placed over this patch in beautiful patterns. These patterns are usually circular and a lump of cow dung is placed in the centre symbolising Ganesha.

Women sing songs praising the legendary King Mahabali and dance around the pookalam. On the 3rd day, people hold big feasts in their homes and invite their friends and relatives. The feast is strictly vegetarian and consists of rice, which is eaten with various curries, vegetables, curds, pickles, crisps, and payasm, banana chips etc. etc.

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