Why Is Onam Celebrated?
God’s own country ‘Kerala’ is known for its lush green tea estates, highest literacy rate in India, beautiful beaches, humble people, the bewitching backwaters, thrilling forest reserves, exotic landscapes, fascinating Kathakali dance, marvelous martial art form Kalaripayattu, authentic spices, refreshing tea, delicious cuisine, and the grand Onam celebrations.
The state boasts a rich blend of different cultures and communities. That’s the reason each festival here is celebrated with much fervour, pomp, and show. You’d have to be a part of them to know how! India is the land of festivals, and each state has its own unique way to celebrate the same occasion. However, Onam, a major Hindu festival is primarily ritualised in Kerala and by Keralites all over the world.
Many of us have heard about this festival but are ignorant of any details related to it, right?
Well, we must all know a little more about this important day and try to colour ourselves in its festive spirit when it arrives. Exciting ten days of sumptuous delights, extravagant clothes, dance, music, merrymaking, and more. Yes, Onam celebrations go on for ten long days. With first and last day being particularly important. Sounds exciting? Indeed, it is!
Onam, also known as Thiruvonam, is a popular rice harvest festival of Kerala. It is celebrated in the Malayalam month ‘Chingam’ that usually falls in between August and September. Atham, Chithira, Chodhi, Visakam, Anizham, Thriketta, Moolam, Pooradam, Uthradam and Thiruvonam – are the names of the ten days, sequentially. Each day, the celebrations are as exciting as the previous one.
Why is Onam celebrated?
According to the legends, there was once a great king ‘Mahabali.’ It is believed that in his reign people were extremely happy and prosperous as they were treated equal. And Onam celebrations are dedicated to him – to honour him and invoke him for his blessings now and forever. The locals believe that on this day the spirit of the asura King Mahabali descends and visits every Malayali house to wish the best to his people. And it is their way of showing love to the beloved king and impress him with such grand celebrations.
The other significance is that, on this day the fifth avatar of Lord Mahavishnu – Vaamana – appeared in the Mahabali’s kingdom and sent him to patal or the nether world. The much-revered king is believed to visit his people annually on Onam.
From fashion, ornamentation, feast, to festivities everything about this festival is done with exuberance to make sure the end result is breathtakingly opulent. And why not, after all their king is expected to pay a visit. The profound pookalams - flower decoration, the suspenseful vallam kali - snake boat races, and exquisite Onam sadhya - feast, everything is ready and everyone is at their best to make him happy.
Grand Onam celebrations
The day begins with a visit to the temple in the morning, which is followed by preparation of elaborate meals served on a plantain leaf, decking up in new traditional outfits, exchanging gifts, and participating in various activities including cultural and sporting events that are organised across the realm. Pulikali or tiger dance is also enjoyed in many parts of the state. Everyone seeks the blessings of King Mahabali on this day for a happy and fortunate life.
Did you know swinging is an important part of Onam celebrations? Girls and boys set up swings hanging from high branches and dress up in their best attires. They sing Onam songs aka Onappattu together and take turn on the swing one by one.
The traditional sadhya thali consists of more than 25 flavourful traditional delicacies – each bite offering a rare delight.
And did you know Onam is also the New Year's Day for Malayali Hindus? No wonder the carnival goes on for ten long days.
Women deck themselves up in Kasavu, the traditional white and golden saree and men dress up in silk shirts and lungi. It is a great time to visit the state and soak in the colourful and unique traditions of this beautiful place.
The first day kick starts with Athachamayam – a grand parade with elephants and traditionally dressed-up people dancing to the beats of their folk songs and drums. The procession has a historical path which is followed till date and culminates at Vamanamoorthy Temple in Thrikkakara – dedicated to the dwarf avatar of Vishnu. The temple is also considered as the abode of Mahabali.
The jubilance in the air is worth experiencing once for sure. If you have a friend from Kerala, make sure you give him company while he goes back home for this grand religious festival. And you’ll be thrilled to see the already stunning state at its best. With colours, flowers, delicacies, and everything good all over it is a site to behold. Rains are almost at a fag end around this time, making the green landscapes greener, more lush, and absolutely ethereal.
Every house has statues of King Mahabali and Vamana installed at the entrance during this time. And the flower decoration made on day one is gradually made bigger with each passing day till the tenth day. Many people participate in the pookalam competitions that are held all over the state with full zeal and enthusiasm. Some of these designs will make your eyes pop out and jaws drop.
Doesn’t it look unbelievably beautiful? These neatly arranged flower patterns look more like a fluffy carpet. Traditionally, ten particular varieties of flowers were used to make these designs. The diyas in the evening highlight these painstakingly-made designs in a beautiful way.
The preparation of an authentic meal gets underway since the morning, no wonder they have over two dozens items to be relished for the Onam Sadhya. You can sniff the rich and tempting aroma that emanates from each house. It tells that the grand delicacies are almost ready to be devoured.
As if the ten days of gala celebrations were not enough, the merrymaking trickles down to a couple of more days. The eleventh day is referred to as Third, and twelfth day as Fourth Onam. On these days, preparations are made to send their dear King Mahabali back to heaven. The Onathappan statue, placed in the center of the flower decorations since day one, is immersed in the nearby sea or river. This is followed by finally clearing and cleaning away the space and gearing up for the normal routine.
We’re sure you can’t wait to get a glimpse of these much sought-after celebrations. Well, we’d say you must try and make it to Kerala to be a part of the larger-than-life festivities. Experience the culture of the place in all its glory and get a clear glimpse of the vivid culture of Kerala during Onam festival.
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