Onam is Kerala’s harvest festival and is celebrated extensively by Malayalis worldwide. It is a 10-day festival and falls in the month of ‘Chingam’ in the Malayalam calendar. Even though the festival is based on Hindu mythology, it is unanimously celebrated by all communities with much gusto by following all the unique rituals.
According to Hindu mythology, when the kingdom under the rule of King Mahabali in present-day Kerala became immensely prosperous, the gods in heaven grew envious. Upon the insistence of the gods, Lord Vishnu meets Mahabali dressed as a boy named Vamana. He asks Mahabali to grant him land measured by his three footsteps. The king immediately agrees, but soon after, Vamana grew into a man covering entire realms.
With one step, he covered the entire earth and with the second step he covered the heavens. When Mahabali realized that Vamana was Lord Vishnu and did not have anywhere to keep his third step, he went down on his knees and let him place the final step on his head pushing him to the world below earth.
Lord Vishnu was moved by Mahabali’s devotion and uprightness, so he granted him rule over the world below for eternity and allowed Mahabali to meet his people in Kerala once every year, which is when Onam is celebrated. The word Onam is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Shravanam.’
In Kerala, the entire 10-day festival is marked by numerous celebrations and here we will talk about six major Onam attractions:
One of the most popular Onam rituals is the preparation of a flower carpet on the floor. This is often made in a circular shape and is called ‘Pookalam’. It is an indication of how the subjects welcome King Mahabali as he visits them. Competitions are organized across the state with people using creative designs to bag the coveted award.
Onasadya is the delectable feast that takes place in the afternoon. The meal is served on plantain leaves and it comprises a wide variety of dishes ranging from sweet to sour, mildly spicy to spicy. Some of the popular preparations include Avial, Khichadi, Kaalan, Pachadi, Chips, Thoran, Pulissery, Sambhar, Payasam, Buttermilk, and Papad. Having this food is a must for non-locals to be a part of the celebrations.
As part of Pulikkali, men dressed as tigers dance to the beats of drums on the streets of Kerala. These performers get their body painted to get the coveted prize of the best-dressed tiger. Pulikkali has not always been part of the celebrations. Some 200 years back, Maharaja Rama Varma Sakthan Thampuran, the then Maharaja of Cochin, is believed to have introduced the folk art. Over time, the folk genre grew in popularity with changes in the adornment of Pulikkali dancers.
Aranmula Boat Race
Snake boat racing or Chundan Vallam Kali is a major attraction in Kerala during Onam. 50 boats take part in an exciting competition on the river Pampa at Aranmula. The race which concludes at the famous Aranmula Parthasarathy Temple that also observes the installation of Lord Krishna at the shrine. The oarsmen of these boats are served a banquet called the Aranmula Valllasadya at the temple premises.
Locals observe the festival by donning traditional attire. Men wear “Mundu” with a gold border along with kurtas while women wear an elegant off-white sari with golden zari border called Kasavu sari.
If you wish to enjoy these festivities, you can go to Kochi, Trivandrum or Thrissur where large people gather on the streets to witness the procession. If you are in Thrissur, you can stay at Sterling Guruvayur which is only a few kilometers away. There are other Sterling resorts in the picturesque towns of Munnar, Wayanad, Anaikatti and Thekkady, where you can enjoy the Onam festivities with Onasadya being part of this celebration.