Onam: The Most Popular National Festival of Kerala, India
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, the most important and widely celebrated festival of Kerala State, is the harvest festival lasting for 10 days. Onam festival is celebrated in the Malayalam month of Chingam, which usually falls in the month of August/September. This grand South Indian festival is celebrated with joy and enthusiasm all over the State by people of all communities, irrespective of their religion and status. The main features of this festival are Pookkalam, Kaikkottikkali, Onasadhya, Snake Boat Race etc.
Meaning of Onam
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.
Story goes that during the reign of mighty asura (demon) king, Mahabali, Kerala witnessed its golden era. Every body in the state was happy and prosperous and king was highly regarded by his subjects. Apart from all his virtues, Mahabali had one shortcoming. He was egoistic. This weakness in Mahabali’s character was utilized by Gods to bring an end to his reign as they felt challenged by Mahabali’s growing popularity. However, for all the good deed done by Mahabali, God granted him a boon that he could annually visit his people with whom he was so attached.
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.
Rich cultural heritage of Kerala comes out in its best form and spirit during the ten day long festival. It is indeed a treat to be a part of the grand carnival. People of Kerala make elaborate preparations to celebrate it in the best possible manner.
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 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 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.
Major Attractions of Onam Celebrations
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.
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.
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.