Onam, the harvest festival, is the state festival of Kerala, observed in the Malayalam month of Chingam, every year (between August and September). The festival is observed with great enthusiasm and zeal by the Malayalees. It’s a ten-day carnival for the Malayalees all over the state, country and abroad. It’s the festival of harvest, so the celebration is dedicated to the bountiful yield. According to Hindu epics Mahabali, the legendary King of Kerala, visit the country every year during the festival of Onam to ensure the wellbeing of the people. Onam marks a number of specialties that fills the air with festivity throughout Kerala. Onasadya is an inevitable part of Onam festival. Thiruvonam is another important day wherein a lavish feast is organized. Other than this a very special Flower Rangoli is synonymous with the festival of Onam. It’s an intricate floor design sketched with colored rice paste and flowers. Read on for interesting facts and details about the harvest festival Onam.
Legends behind Onam
According to the legends behind the festival Onam, there lived a mighty demon king Mahabali who was the ruler of Kerala. People were very happy in his kingdom. His rising popularity made the Gods jealous of him and they approached Lord Vishnu to put an end to his rule. Lord Vishnu then disguised himself as Brahmin dwarf called ‘Vamana’ and sought three steps of land from Mahabali. Vishnu then increased his size to cosmic proportions and covered the entire earth in one step and then heaven in another step. He then asked Mahabali, where to place his third step, he then offered his head to the divinity. Pleased Vishnu then made him the king of the hell and allowed him to visit his kingdom once a year. Onam is considered as visiting of king Mahabali to his own earthly kingdom to enquire about the well being of his people.
One of the prominent rituals of Onam is Maveli Puja. Specific to the Malabar (northern) part of Kerala, people from that region perform the Maveli Puja on the Uthradam (ninth day) and Thiruvonam (tenth day) of Onam. In order to perform the puja, three small sized figurines, made of red sand are erected, at the verandah of households.
Attam is the beginning of the festival Onnam. The festival begins with the special Floral Rangoli known as the ‘pookkalam’. People put flower rangoli at their entrance using rice paste and varieties of flowers. This is a long followed tradition and forms the integral part of the festival. The festival also marks a lavish feast ‘Thiruvonam’. A number of delicacies are prepared by people. A number of games are also part of the festival. Games such as ‘Talappanthukali’ (ball game), ‘Attakalam’ (fight between men, played in groups), ‘Kutu Kutu’ (Kabaddi), Ambeyyal (Archery) are popular in the region and played during the festive season of Onam.
The festival also has a special and traditional dance known as Kaikotti kali or Thiruvathira kali. This dance is performed by middle- aged women who stand surrounding a traditional deep of Kerala. Eight to twelve women can perform this dance. They adorned themselves with traditional Kerala saris and gold jewelries.
Gifts form an inseparable part of the festival of Onam. Some of the most popular gifts exchanged during these festivals are silver coins, gold jewelry, clothes, home appliances, gadgets and many more.