Onam is the most popular festival in Kerala and is celebrated with great pomp and show. It is believed to be the National festival of Kerala. Onam is celebrated each year in the month of August-September which according to the Malayalam calendar is the first month of the year called Chingam. The festivities of the Onam last for ten days in which old and young participate with equal enthusiasm.
The word Onam is believed to have been originated from the Sanskrit word Shravanam which in Sanskrit refers to one of the 27 Nakshatars or constellations. Thiru in South India is used for anything associated with the Lord Vishnu and Thiruvonam is believed to be the Nakshatra of Lord Vishnu who pressed the great King Mahabali to the underworld with his foot.
The festival of Onam is dedicated to the King Mahabali who though was an Asur (one with more negative thoughts in his mind) by birth but was a Sur (one with more positive thoughts in his mind) by virtue. It is said that Kerala never witnessed a better time than it witnessed during the rule of King Mahabali. He was the most just king ever. None of the needy ever returned empty handed from his door.
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The myth of King Mahabali says that the king sacrificed himself along with every thing else he had in order to stand true to his words. Thus as a reward for his sacrifice he was blessed to be remembered by the people of Kerala and all his followers for eternity in the form of Onam festival.
If you wish to travel to Kerala to enjoy the fun and frolic of an Indian festival, then the best option would be the time of Onam. The interesting rituals associated with the festival contribute to making the celebrations of Onam a fascinating one.
Major Attractions of Onam Celebrations
Pookkalam refers to making designs with different types of flowers in front of the gate of house. With each passing day during the Onam festival, a new layer of flowers is added to the Pookalam. At some Pookalam competitions are held at some places.
This the grand meal prepared at the day Thiruonam. Onasadya meal is served on a Banana leaf and is a nine course meal having at least four to five vegetables. The number of vegetables in the meal varies from house to house but most of the well off families cooks nine to eleven dishes for the Onasadya. Restaurants offer as many as 30 dishes for the Onasadya.
This refers to all the games played at the festival of Onam. Talappanthukali which is game played with a ball is a favorite of men. They also indulge in Ambeyyal (archery). Women engage themselves in making Pookalam and performing several traditional dances.
Vallamkali Boat Race
Also known as the snake boat race, this is one of the most entertaining events of the Onam festival. Near about 100 boatmen compete with each other in a boat riding competition .The boats are decorated beautifully in different patterns. Men and women from across the city come to witness this race.
The elephant procession is one of the most awaited events of Onam. The majestic animal is decorated with flowers, ornaments in gold and other metals. The elephant is made to take a round of whole Thrissur where this procession is held. The elephant dances and interacts with people through small gestures.
Other major attraction of the festival includes the folk dances performed by women. Kaikottikali is a clap dance performed on the occasion of Onam. Women performing the dance sing praises of King Mahabali. Women also perform a dance in a circle. This dance form is called Thumbi Thullal.
Onam is celebrated by the Malayalis all over India and the world but it is primarily celebrated in Kerala in India where its glitter is equivalent to that of a national festival.
The festival of Onam brings along with it all the colours of Kerala- its history, its culture, and its beliefs. Designing of beautiful flower carpets called Pookalam, preparation of banquet lunch, organisation of snake boat races, Puli Kali, and the Kaikottikkali dance are the major attractions of the festival.