Onam – A Kerala Festival


Finally, Onam has arrived and am running to my native to celebrate it with my family. My celebration will not be complete if i don't share my joy with you guys out there. Well to begin with let me explain what really is ONAM.


The legend says..


Once Kerala (southern state in India) was ruled by mighty asura (demon) king named Mahabali. During this period Kerala witnessed its golden era. Every body in the state was happy and prosperous and king was highly regarded by his subjects.


As per Hindu mythology, Mahabali conqured the 3 worlds by defeating the Devas (the gods).The Devas were very annoyed and approached Vishnu (the protector of world) and asked for his help. Vishnu decided to test Mahabali. In the meantime, Mahabali was performing the sacrificial rite of the  on the banks of Narmada River. He also declared that he would give anything that anyone sought from him during this rite. Taking advantage of the Yagam and Mahabali's declaration, Vishnu appeared before Mahabali disguised as a Brahmin and said: "You need not give me anything great. It is enough if you give me that extend of land covered by three footsteps of mine".


Mahabali was a king who would never go back on his word, considering it sinful to do so. Even after his Guru’s (teacher) advice that it was not a ordinary brahmin mahabali accepted the request and asked Vamana to measure the desired three feet of land. Suddenly, Vamana grew in size until he towered above the heavens. With one footstep, he measured all of the earth. With the second, he claimed all of heaven. There was still one foot of territory that Mahabali owed him. Mahabali requested Vamana to place the final step on his head as the third step of land, for he had no other left. Vamana did so and in doing so, pushed him down to Patala, the underworld (the kingdom beneath the earth).


Since Mahabali was a righteous king and moreover a devotee of lord Vishnu himself. the Lord granted him permission to visit his subjects once a year. It is this visit of Mahabali that is celebrated as Onam every year. People make all efforts to celebrate the festival in a grand way and impress upon their dear King that they are happy and wish him well. The most notable feature of Onam is that it is celebrated by every keralite irrespective of the religion even though the celebration came from Hindu mythology.


The Ten Days of Celebration


There is a saying in Malayalam that "Kanam Vittum Onam Unnanam" which means "We should have the Thiruvonam lunch even if we have to sell all our properties" which shows the importance of the Onam celebrations.


Onam comes in the month of "Chingam" which is the first month according to the Malayalam Calendar. The celebrations of Onam start on Atham day, 10 days before onam. Earthen mounds, which look somewhat like square pyramids, representing Mahabali and Vamanan are placed in the dung-plastered courtyards in front of the house and beautifully decorated with flowers. People put flower mats in front of their houses,  known as ‘Onapookkalam’,to welcome King Mahabali. it is a carpet made out of the gathered blossoms with one or two varieties of foliage of differing tints pinched up into little pieces to serve the decorator's purpose.

  Onam vannae


On the 10th day of celebration “Thiruvonam day”, King Mahabali is believed to visit every home. Grand feast called Onasadya is prepared in every household. 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. The eldest member of each family presents clothes to all the members of the family. Even the poorest of the poor manage to find something for himself to celebrate the national festival in his own humble way.


Onam Pookkalam is considered as a symbol for secularism. Various kinds of flowers combine together to form a great-looking pookkalam. So, it shall reflect those old good days during King Mahabali. It's a great pleasure for people in Kerala to make Pookkalam from Atham to Thiruvonam, especially for children.


Another enchanting feature of Onam is Vallamkali, the Snake Boat Race. 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. While Women indulge in cultural activities like dancing, Men go in for rigorous sports like Talappanthukali (played with ball), Ambeyyal (Archery) and other combats.




Well, I think its time for Sadya (My stomach is crying..). I really recommend you to visit Kerala during an Onam. (but be prepared for a humid climate, it not the Mahabali’s rule now.:-) ).


Wish you all a Wonderful OnaM..

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About author

Jain T. Chacko is a freelance writer by passion and an Engineer by profession. Active in the blogger world under the title "WhatJainSays" ever since 2010. Through "whatjainsays.blogspot.com" he shares the latest buzz in the e-world, spread across thousands of websites. Loves sharing and learning also prays for world peace.
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