Onam Festival

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Onam Festival

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Kerala Onam Celebration

Onam Festival is the biggest festival of Kerala. But, there is a lot more to Onam than being just a festival. Onam reflects the faith of the people of Kerala. A belief in their legendary past, religion and power of worship. It shows the high spirit of the people who go out of the way to celebrate the festival in the prescribed manner and a grand fashion. It portrays the true cultural heritage and past of Kerala. All the rituals and traditions associated with the festival shows how rich is the heritage of India. Onam is celebrated as a harvest festival.

It is celebrated at a time when everything appears so wonderful. The beautiful landscape of Kerala can be seen in its full radiance at this time of the Malayalam New Year. Weather, it seems, also seeks to be a part of the festival. It contributes by becoming pleasantly warm and sunny. Fields look brilliant with a bountiful harvest. Farmers feel on top of the world as they watch the result of their hard labor with pride. The festival showcases the unity among people.

The beauty of the festival lies in it’s secular fabric. People of all religions, castes and communities celebrate the festival with equal joy and verve. Onam also helps to create an atmosphere of peace and brotherhood by way of various team sports organized on the day. One of the most marvelous facets of Onam is the unfolding of its rich and well – established culture. It portrays the culture through various activities. We see not just glimpses but a whole gamut of it in the ten – day – long carnival.

Pulikali, Kaikottikali, Kummattikalli, Kathakali, Thumbi Thullal besides several other folk arts and traditions can be seen on one platform called Onam. Women take special interests in making special arrangements to welcome Onathappan. Flower carpets are laid in the front courtyards with dedication and full sincerity. A grand meal is prepared on the day of Thiru Onam. It is on this day that Maveli’s spirit visits Kerala. Delicious meal consists of best of Kerala cuisine including avial, sambhar, rasam, parippu and the payasam adds more color to the festival. Onam is the passion of the people of Kerala. And, pride of India.

Onam Festival in South India

Onam is considered to be one of the most spectacular festivals of South India. It is really difficult to capture the beauty and splendor of the festival in writings. Once you go and see it with your own eyes it is difficult to explain in words. It is the festival of the high – spirited people of Kerala. People celebrate it with gaiety and fervor. It is celebrated for a period of ten days, starting from the first day Atham and continuing till tenth and the biggest day called Thiru Onam.General Studies Question Bank CD

It is not that only people of south India celebrate this festival it is the celebration time for all throughout the country. People from all corners participate in the celebration. The spectacular festival attracts thousands of tourists from across the country and globe.

With the passage of time this festival has gained immense popularity as it is promoted by the Government of India for Tourism purpose. Onam is a daytime festival. Shops and markets are spruced up and some shops are even illuminated at night.

Onam is the official festival of Kerala. In fact Onam celebrated like a mini Republic Day in Kerala. The Tourism Department of Kerala organizes the famous snake boat race. Scores of people come to watch the parade and there is a feeling of festivity in the air.

The festival is celebrated for ten days with great enthusiasm. The beginning of the festival is marked with floral carpets called Pookalam. It is done on the first day. Girls mainly decorate them in designs in front courtyards of their house. Boys help them out in doing so. Special prayers are also said on Atham in a local temple. Hectic activities for the carnival begin in the state from this day onwards.

The most important and happening day of the festival is the carnival called Thiruvonam. Festivities begin as early as 4 am. People clean up their house, take early bath, wear new clothes and perform elaborate prayers to seek divine blessings. A massive and most exquisite pookalam is prepared on this day to welcome the spirit of King Maveli.

The most exciting part of the festival is the grand lunch called Onasadya. People of Kerala are extremely passionate about this. Anyhow they will prepare this lunch even if they cannot easily afford. There are lots of activities, which takes place all over the state on Onam.

At Thrissur, caparisoned elephants move out in a procession and present a regal view. While at Cheruthuruthy, Kathakali artists cast a spell on the audience with the magic of their performance. Women perform their graceful traditional clap dance, Kaikotikalli on the day and enthrall the audience. Vallamkali, the popular snake boat race is also organised in several parts of the state to mark the day.

Number of sports and games events are also organised on the day. These are collectively called Onakalikal. Some of them are rigorous sports like Talappanthukali, Kutukutu and combats like Kayyankali and Attakalam. Archery is also a part of Onakalikal. Senior members have their share of fun by playing indoor games like cards and chess. There is also a tradition of swinging on Onam. A decorated swing is swung on a high branch and young men and women take the pleasure on it while singing traditional songs.

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Onam Legends

Like most of the other festivals in India Onam too has lots of legends associated with it. There are various interesting legends behind the origin of Onam. The festival is celebrated by all in the state of Kerala, but Nambudiri Brahmins of Kerala are the most spirited when it comes to Onam celebrations as they attribute its origin to their own community.

Nambudiri also called Namputiri is the dominant caste of Kerala. Its members regard themselves as the true repositories of the ancient Vedic religion and of the traditional Hindu code. They believe to have started the festival. There are various legends associated with the festival of Onam some of the most interesting and important are as follows :

The legend of King Mahabali

It is the most popular legend. It is about the mythological King Mahabali who gave Kerala its golden age. Popularity of the King could not be tolerated by Gods and they surreptitiously send him to the nether world. Mahabali’s request to visit his people once in a year was granted by God.General Studies Question Bank CD

This annual visit of King Mahabali is celebrated as Onam every year. It is believed that he visits the place of Kerala every year. And that visit is celebrated as the festival of Onam. The Legend of Vanishing Boy

The legend says that head of the Katoor Mana, a Nambudiri family had a bath in the river Pampa and was waiting for a poor man to feed. He suddenly saw a boy in rags.

After having the meal, the boy vanished. He was spotted near the Aranmulla temple but disappeared again. Brahmin concluded the boy was God himself. Since then, Brahmin brought food to Aranmulla temple every year.

The Legend of Boat Palliodam

According to this legend once a boat laden with food got stuck in the bend of a river. When a wise man boarding the boat, Bhattathiripad, fed a poor and famished family living on the bank of river, only then the boat could be maneuvered forward. From this legend comes the tradition of feeding a poor family on Onam.

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Onam Custom and Traditions

Onam is a rich festival, which is rich in culture and heritage. There are various fascinating activities encompassing the celebration of Onam. The Traditional people of Kerala really celebrates the festival keeping in mind the true customs and traditions. Besides the various rituals that are meant to be completed in individual households, there are a lot of customary activities that are organized at the level of society and city all over the state. There are various customs associated with the festival are as follows.


Athachamyam is a grand procession that marks the beginning of the Onam festival. It is celebrated with lot of fan-fair on the day of Atham at Thirpunithura and Piravam. The event recalls a royal tradition when Maharajas of erstwhile Kochi State as a custom traveled to the Thripunithura Fort with their entire entourage.

Today, even in the absence of the King, the custom retains its regal charm. Highpoints of the event are performances by folk artistes, caparisoned elephants, musical ensembles and dance shows by skilled artsites. Snake Boat Race.

The most enthralling and popular of all such customary events is the Vallamkali or the Snake Boat Race. The event is held just a few days before Thiru Onam. Though the event takes place at several places in the city, the most important of them all is the one organized at Alappuzha.General Studies Question Bank CD

A large number of big and decorated boats called chundan vallams participate with hundreds of boatmen. Rowing of boats on the rhythm provided by the songs and music of the drum makes it a captivating event.

Aranmula Uthrittathi

This is another magnificent boat event organized in connection with Onam. This annual event takes place on the day of Uthrittathi Asterism at Aranmula. This is meant to relive mythology that narrates a story of Lord Krishna crossing the river on that particular day.

It is believed that the spirit of the Lord is present on all the boats hence there is no competition of any sort in this event. A large number of people come to watch the joyous event. Some also offer Valla Sady as a vazhipadu ( offering ) in the temples on this occasion. Decked Elephants Procession

Trichur, the cultural capital of Kerala, marks the festival in its own beautiful style. Here, a procession of decorated elephants in carried out on the streets. It’s a resplendent site to watch the bejeweled elephants walking on the streets in their full majesty and grandeur. Children particularly take great delight in watching the show of their favourite animal. Songs, dance and merry making are a part of this event. 


Renowned for housing the famous, Kerala Kalamandalm, the Kathakali Training Centre, Cheruthuruthy is a small village in the north of Trissur district. Onam celebrations at Cheruthuruthy are marked for the Kathakali performance by the best artists of the state. A large number of people gather in this village to watch the enactment of scenes from epics and folk tales. Pulikali / Kaduvakali Performance

This is the most entertaining custom of Onam. In this performers take the guise of tigers. They paint their bodies yellow with patterns of black and red. Scenes of tiger hunting goats and tigers being hunted by humans are beautifully depicted through this folk art. Beat for the performance is provided by udukku and thakil. Pulikali performance of Thrissur and Palghat districts are the most famous.


This is another recreational folk dance from the state of Kerala, particularly South Malabar. Clad in plaited grass and a huge colourful wooden mask, Kummattikali performers can be seen entertaining people on the festive occasion of Onam. Children are a huge fan of the performance. Mythological and folk themes are enacted on the beat of onavillu in Kummattikali.

Athapoovu Competitions

An integral tradition of Onam, Pookalam has come up as an art form. Competitions for decorating Pookalams are organised all over the state. They are extremely popular and witness the participation of large number of Pookalam designers and onlookers. Creativity of the designers in unleashed through such competitions as they come up with innovative designs each year.

Kaikotti Kali / Thiruvathirakali

Kaikottikali is an elegant clap dance performed on the occasion of Onam. In this women sing songs praising the legendary King Mahabali and dance around the pookalam. At the centre of this is placed a lit bronze lamp called nilavilakku. It is a captivating sight to watch troupe of female dancers performing in their traditional Kerala attire consisting of gold bordered off – white mundu – neriyathu and decked with a fragrant gajra in their hair.

Thumbi Thullal

Women also perform Thumbi Thullal as a custom in Onam. It is a folk dance performed by a group of women who sit in the formation of circle. The lead performer sits inside the circle who initiates the song which is taken up by other singers. Clap dance is also performed by the women dressed in their best clothes and ethnic jewelery.


This is a collective name for all the games played on the occasion of Onam. Traditional games of Onam constitute rigorous sports like Talappanthukali, Kutukutu and combats like Kayyankali and Attakalam. Archery is also a part of Onakalikal. Senior members go in for indoor games like cards and chess. Sports events are organised by various social and cultural organisations all over the state.

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Onam Rituals

The Onam continue for ten long days. The first day, Atham and the last or tenth day, Thiru Onam. Religious and traditional people of Kerala sincerely follow all the customs and traditions set by their ancestors. A number of cultural programmes, dances, songs and feasts mark the festival. There are various rituals associated with the celebration of the first day, Atham. The day is regarded holy and auspicious by the people of Kerala. People take early bath on the day and offer prayers in the local temple.

The important event of the day is the making of Pookkallam or the flower carpet starts from this day. Attha Poo is prepared in the front courtyard by girls of the house to welcome the spirit of King Mahabali in whose honor Onam is celebrated. Boys play a supporting role and help in gathering flowers. In the following days, more flowers are added to Pookalam. As a result Pookalam turns out to be of massive size on the final day.General Studies Question Bank CD

Another important day is the Thiru Onam. Preparations for the Thiru Onam start in a big way and everybody gets engaged to mark the festival in their own way. Everybody cleans their house to give a festive look to their house. There is also a set breakfast consisting of steamed bananas and fried pappadam ( pappad ). This remains the same till the day of Thiru Onam. A swing is also slung on a high branch of a tree. It is decorated with flowers and the youngsters take great delight in swinging and singing, that goes simultaneously.

Thiru Onam is a big day. The best part of the festival is that it is a secular festival so people from all community and religion can take part.

There are various morning rituals. People wake up early as 4 a.m. on the day of Onam. Day begins with cleaning of the house. In the earlier days, front courtyards were smeared with cow dungs. The custom is still followed in villages, where the houses are not cemented.

Onasadya is the most important and elaborate lunch after completing the morning rituals; it is time for the family to get ready for the grand meal called Onasadya. The biggest and most prominent place in the house is selected to lay the meal which is traditionally served in a row on a mat laid on the floor.

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Onam Significance

Onam is the biggest and the most important festival of the state of Kerala. It is celebrated as a harvest festival and is celebrated with joy and enthusiasm all over the state by people of all communities. The best part of the festival is thae it is a secular festival so people from different communities and religion can take part in it. According to a popular legend, the festival is celebrated to welcome King Mahabali, whose spirit is said to visit Kerala at the time of Onam.

Onam is celebrated in the beginning of the month of Chingam, the first month of Malayalam Calendar ( Kollavarsham ). This corresponds with the month of August – September according to Gregorian calendar.

It is a ten day festival. The first day is called Atham and tenth day, Thiruonam are most important of all. Popularity and presentation of rich culture of the state during the carnival made Onam the National Festival of Kerala in 1961. Elaborate feasts, folk songs, elegant dances, energetic games, elephants, boats and flowers all are a part of the dynamic festival called Onam.

The festival portrays the rich cultural heritage therefore it signifies the rich heritage of India. 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.General Studies Question Bank CD

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. It showcase the unity among people. 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. Folk performances like Kummatti kali and Pulikali add to the zest of celebrations. If we try to find out the meaning and significance behind its celebration we will see that according to legends 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.

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Ten Days of Onam

The festival of Onam is celebrated for ten days in the state of Kerala. In some regions of the state festivities are restricted to four to six days only. According, to historians and scholars the festivities have changed with the passage of time. In earlier days, Onam was celebrated for a month and much more lavishly.

Nevertheless, Onam is still celebrated with gaiety and joy on all the ten days of the festivities. There are set rituals for each day and the traditional people of Kerala dutifully follow them. The mood of the people is upbeat all through the carnival and the high spirited people of Kerala are ever ready to indulge in merriment. Of all these days the first day Atham and the tenth day Thiruvonam are the most significant ones. Ninth day Uthradam is also considered to be extremely important from the point of view of celebrations in several parts of Kerala.General Studies Question Bank CD

1st Day – Atham : First day is an important one and is considered holy and auspicious by the people of Kerala.

2nd Day – Chithira : On the second day of Onam, people add to the size of the Pookalam with different flowers.

3rd Day – Chodhi : Size of the Attha Poo gets further increased with an addition of design with different flowers.

4th Day – Visakam : Brisk activities in the market and households can be witnessed on the day of Visakam.

5th Day – Anizham : High point of the day is the grand boat race event called Vallamkali.

6th Day – Thriketa : People, who may be staying away from their homes, start coming to their homes as the main day approaches.

7th Day – Moolam : With just two days left for the festival now, enthusiasm grips the state of Kerala.

8th Day – Pooradam : The day holds significance in Onam festivities. Devotees create clay idols in the shape of small pyramids.

9th Day – Uthradam : It is a day prior to Thiruvonam. Some people begin festivities on a large scale on this day.

10th Day – Thiruvonam : The biggest day of all, is the tenth day called Thiruvon.

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Onam Date

The Onam festival continues for ten days. The starting day is called the Thiru Onam. The festival commences from lunar asterism ( a cluster of stars smaller than a constellation ) Atham ( Hastha ) that appears ten days before asterism Onam or Thiru Onam. Atham is regarded as auspicious and holy day by people of Kerala. Onam corresponds to Shravan day in the month of August or September, hence it is also called Sravanotsavam.

The first day of the festival is called Atham and culminating on Thiru Onam. These are considered to be the most important days. The day of Atham is celebrated on the basis of the position of the stars.

The day is decided in accordance with the legend of King Mahabali in whose honor Onam is celebrated. People believe that it was this particular day in the month of Chingam when Lord Vishnu took his fifth avatar as Vaamana, appeared in the kingdom of King Mahabali and send him to nether world. It is believed that Onam celebrations started during the Sangam Period. Record of celebrations can be found from the time of Kulasekhara Perumals ( 800 AD ). At that time Onam celebrations continued for a month.

  • Onam in 2012 is on : 29th August, 2012 ( Wednesday ).
  • Onam in 2013 is on : 16th September, 2013 ( Monday ).


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