Introduction to Onam
Onam is an annual harvest festival that is celebrated by the people of Kerala, India. It falls on the Malayalam month of Chingam (August-September) and marks the beginning of a new year according to the Malayali calendar. Onam is not only celebrated as a major religious festival but also marks various cultural festivities and rituals associated with it.
Onam is celebrated by people of all religions, caste, and creed. People dress up in traditional attire during the festival and indulge in various activities such as boat races, pookolams (flower decorations), elephant processions, folk performances, and Onam sadya (feast).
Historical Significance of Onam
Onam is believed to have been celebrated since the times of Mahabali, a great demon king who was loved by his people and prosperity to Kerala. According to legend, upon hearing of Mahabali's devotion to Lord Vishnu, the gods became jealous and asked Vishnu to banish him from Earth. When Mahabali returned every year on Onam day, the people of Kerala welcomed him and celebrated his return. This is why Onam is still celebrated to honor Mahabali's memory and spirit.
The Ten Days of Onam: A Journey of Celebrations
The celebration of Onam stretches over ten days, each with its own significance, rituals, and festivities. Beginning with Atham and culminating with Thiruvonam, each day of Onam is a unique celebration in itself. The days are filled with vibrant Pookalams, delectable Onasadhya feasts, thrilling boat races, and lively folk dances. Each day is named and celebrated in a distinctive way, reflecting the rich cultural fabric of Kerala. This journey of ten days not only connects the past and the present of Kerala but also brings together communities and families in a grand celebration of unity, prosperity, and joy.
First Day: Atham
The first day of Onam is Atham, which marks the beginning of the festival. The day is spent decorating the house with colorful flowers and Pookalam - a floral rangoli design made from freshly picked flowers. People also dress in new clothes to mark the occasion and exchange gifts.
Second Day: Chithira
The second day of Onam is Chithira. This day is usually spent preparing more intricate Pookalams and decorations for the house. People also visit temples to make offerings to the gods in honor of Mahabali's return.
Chodhi marks the third day of Onam celebrations and is usually celebrated with plenty of drumming, traditional songs, and dances. On this day, it is common to see huge processions of people dressed in their finest attire holding umbrellas and singing folk songs while dancing their way down the streets. People also prepare special delicacies for the festival such as Payasam, Appam, and Unnakai.
Fourth Day: Vishakam
On the fourth day of Onam, Vishakam is celebrated with much fanfare. People dress up in traditional attire and visit temples to offer prayers for success and prosperity. It is also customary to exchange gifts among family members and friends during this day as a token of love and friendship.
Fifth Day: Anizham
Anizham marks the fifth day of Onam celebrations and it is believed that Mahabali's spirit visits Kerala during this time. To offer him a warm welcome, people adorn their homes with lights and decorations. In addition to this, special pujas (rituals) are performed at the temples and delicious Onam Sadhya feasts are prepared for lunch. This day also marks the start of the colorful boat races - Vallam Kali - that are held throughout the festival period.
Sixth Day: Thrikketta
Thrikketta marks the sixth day of Onam celebrations and is a significant part of the festivities. It is believed that on this day, Mahabali visits his beloved subjects in Kerala one final time before departing back to his heavenly abode. People celebrate this day by dressing up in traditional attire and visiting temples to offer prayers.
Seventh Day: Moolam
Moolam marks the seventh day of Onam celebrations and is also known as the 'Day of Wealth'. On this day, people perform Lakshmi puja to seek blessings from goddess Lakshmi for good fortune and prosperity in life. This day is also celebrated by playing traditional games like Pallankuzhi, Onapattukal, and Vadamvali. People also exchange gifts and sweets to mark the festival.
Eighth Day: Uthradom
Uthradom marks the eighth day of Onam celebrations which is considered to be very auspicious. It is believed that on this day King Mahabali returns back to his heavenly abode after visiting his beloved subjects. People celebrate this day by performing special pujas (rituals) at temples and offering prayers to seek blessings from the gods. The streets are filled with beautiful decorations, displays of traditional art forms, and music - all in celebration of the festival.
Ninth Day: Avittam
The ninth day of Onam celebrations is known as Avittam or Ayyappan Thiruvonam. This day is dedicated to Lord Vishnu and marks the end of Onam festivities. People decorate their homes with rangolis (floor designs made from flowers) and create elaborate feasts in honor of the festival. They also perform folk dances, exchange gifts, and firecrackers, wear traditional attire, and enjoy boat races. It is believed that when King Mahabali returns to his heavenly abode, the Gods shower blessings upon all those who had celebrated Onam with joy and enthusiasm.
Tenth Day: Thiruvonam
On the final day of Onam celebrations, people gather at temples to offer prayers and seek blessings from gods. This is also a day for forgiveness, reconciliation, love and peace. People wear their traditional attires and indulge in festivities like music, dance and merry-making. They also prepare an elaborate feast consisting of various dishes such as payasam (sweet pudding), pachadi (spicy yogurt-based dish), and chips. This marks the end of Onam festivities with people bidding goodbye to King Mahabali and thanking him for his benevolence.
Traditions and Rituals
Traditions and Rituals are an integral part of Onam celebrations and have been passed down for generations. Popular traditions include creating pookalams (floral rangolis), preparing the grand feast known as Onasadhya, participating in vallamkali (snake boat races) and pulikali (tiger dance). All these rituals bring people together to celebrate the festival with joy and enthusiasm. In modern times, Onam is celebrated as a national festival in Kerala to promote unity and brotherhood among the people. Onam also serves as an opportunity to showcase the rich cultural heritage of the region. It celebrates the spirit of festivities, togetherness, and harmony which form the essence of this wonderful festival.
Pookalam: Floral Rangoli
Pookalam is a traditional art form of Kerala that involves creating intricate designs with flowers. It is made in the courtyard of houses to welcome King Mahabali and symbolizes the triumph of good over evil. Traditionally, Pookalam was made using natural colors from plants and flowers but nowadays synthetic colors are also used. People come together to create beautiful patterns with vibrant colors as they make offerings to King Mahabali.
Onasadhya: The Grand Feast
Onasadhya is a grand feast prepared on Onam and consists of more than 20 vegetarian dishes. It is served on a plantain leaf with families and friends gathering around the table to share in the festivities. The meal includes traditional delicacies such as avial (a vegetable curry), sambar (a lentil-based stew), rasam (a spicy soup) and payasam (a sweet dessert). The Onasadhya is a great way to celebrate the festival of Onam with your loved ones.
Vallamkali: Snake Boat Race
Vamkali, also known as the Snake Boat Race is one of the most popular highlights of Onam celebrations. It involves teams of men rowing long boats shaped like a snake around a course. The boat crews made up of up to a hundred rowers race in unison to win the competition and are cheered on by enthusiastic crowds. This traditional boat race has become an iconic symbol of the Onam celebrations and is enjoyed by both participants and spectators alike.
Tiger Dance is another popular event during Onam. It involves teams of dancers dressed up in tiger costumes and face-paint, performing a series of traditional folk dances to vibrant music. The performance is accompanied by drum beats and elaborate footwork that create a captivating spectacle for the audience.
Onam's Influence on Kerala's Culture
Onam is a festival that has been deeply embedded in the culture of Kerala for centuries. It is celebrated with great enthusiasm and features traditional events such as Onasadhya, Vallamkali and Pulikali, that showcase the unique culture of this part of India. Through these celebrations, the people of Kerala are able to celebrate their heritage and create beautiful memories that will last a lifetime. Onam also serves as an important reminder of the importance of preserving our culture and traditions for generations to come. As we continue to celebrate Onam each year, may it bring us joy, peace and prosperity. Wishing you all a very Happy Onam!
Aside from Onam celebrations, Kerala is well known for its rich culture, vibrant heritage and picturesque landscapes. Its diverse landscape is home to a variety of wildlife including tigers, elephants and more. Kerala's culture has also been deeply influenced by its long history of trade and commerce which has seen it become an important centre for spices in the Indian subcontinent.
Conclusion: Onam's Relevance in the Modern World
Onam is an important festival in the state of Kerala that serves to strengthen the bonds between people and preserve its unique culture. It has become a strong symbol of unity as well as a major cultural event that celebrates the rich heritage of Kerala. While Onam may be celebrated differently from other parts of India, its core values such as tradition, hospitality, and religious harmony remain unchanged. As we continue to celebrate this joyous festival each year in different parts of the world, may it bring us closer together and bring greater peace and prosperity.