Onam is the grandest and one of the most important festival in Kerala, one of the states in India. It is also considered as harvest festival for the people of Kerala. They celebrate this auspicious festival with great zeal and enthusiasm. Traditionally, Onam is celebrated to commemorate the day of King Mahabali’s annual visit. People in Kerala believe that the spirit of Mahabali visit the state during the Onam festival.
Onam festival usually fall between the months of August and September. According to the Kollavarsham, or Malayalam Calendar, the celebration of Onam occurs at the start of the month of Chingam. Traditionally, Onam celebration last for about 10 days, in which each day has its own significance. But of all these days of celebration, Atham, which is the first day and Thiruonam, the 10th and last day are considered as the most important.
Legends Of Onam Festival
Just like the other popular and important festivals in India, Onam also has significant stories of how the celebration has started.
King Mahabali Legend
There was once the mighty and compassionate demon (Asura) King Mahabali that ruled the state of Kerala. He was Prahlada’s grandson. It is believed that during his regime, people in his kingdom didn’t experience sorrow, premature death, poverty and diseases. With that, people were very happy to have a king like Him.
However, Gods felt envious with the popularity of King Mahabali, thus they approached the Lord Vishnu and asked for help. During those times, King Mahabali worshipped Lord Vishnu. The mighty Lord disguised as Vamana, the Brahmin dwarf and went to Mahabali’s land, having these three boons granted by the King. Lord Vishnu requested the land that he could cover through his three steps. Upon receiving the grant for his boons, his size has increased. With his first step, he was able to cover the sky and the entire earth with his second. In his third step, King Mahabali offered his head to be stepped on by the disguised Vamana.
As the disguised Vamana stepped on Mahabali’s head, the mighty king was pushed into the patala, known as the Netherworld. But Lord Vishnu was delighted with the generosity of King Mahabali, thus He granted his boon, allowing the king to visit his people in Kerala every year. Hence, people in Kerala believe that King Mahabali visit their land every year and celebrate for it.
The Celebration of Onam
People in Kerala celebrate onam with great enthusiasm. Even those Malayalees who are far away from their homeland celebrate this day and participate in events and activities about Onam in the places they currently reside. There are a lot of interesting traditions and methods of celebrations observed during the festival. Aside from the traditional activities, communities in Kerala also set up events that help restore social ties among families and community.
This is probably the most festive and popular activities during the Onam festival. On Atham or the first day of Onam, people create beautiful floral rangoli called Pookalam in the entrance of their home. They use different flowers of different colors. Some of the mostly used flowers for pookalam making are roses, jasmine and marigold. Children are having fun in gathering these flowers in the neighborhood while women of the household turn it into a beautiful artwork. Nowadays, Malayalee committees hold pookalam competitions for participants and artists to show off their skills in creating beautiful and unique pookalam designs. Some of the most popular Onam pookalam designs feature King Mahabali image, the festivity itself and geometric shapes.
One of the traditional dancec performed during Onam is the Thiruvathira kali, popularly known as Kaikotti kali. This dance is traditionally performed by women, standing around the traditional deep called deepam. Performers wear beautiful set of saree, a traditional dress in Kerala. They also clad themselves with elegant gold jewelry. This dance usually involves around 8 to 12 performers.
Another popular dance performed during Onam is Kaduvakali or Pulikali. This kind of dance depict the act of tiger hunting. Thus, performers are painted like tigers – consisting black, red and yellow paints. They dance ferociously with the beat of musical instruments called as thakil and udukku.
This is the most important part of the onam celebration. Regardless of religion and caste, each and every Malayalee feasts on the day of Thiruvonam. There are a lot of delightful dishes prepared for the people. Most Onam dishes are vegetarian meals however, non veggies may be included in some Malayalee community. According to the beliefs of Malayalees, one should prepare and eat Onam feast despite of being left with nothing.
Fun and enjoyable games make the Onam celebration more festive and complete. There are different games that every Malayalee can play. These are outdoor games like Kayyankali (one-on-one brawl between two men), Attakalam (almost the same as Kayyankali but it is played by groups), Kutu Kutu, Ambeyyal and Talappanthukali. These games add to the enthusiasm and delight of the celebration.
Another highlight of the Onam celebration is the popular boat race known as Vallamkali. This is an exciting sport event held in different parts of Kerala. Oarsmen participate in this snake boat race with great enthusiasm. This event is specially significant in Southern Kerala. Aside from the festival of Onam, this event is also held yearly in the Aaranmula River in Pathanamthitta District.
As mentioned, Onam incorporates grand feasting known as Onasadya. Different kinds of delicious onam dishes are served in a banana leaf. There is a pattern in how the recipes will be served in the banana leaf. Here are some of the dishes present in every onasadya.
Olan – A dish made of French beans and pumpkins cooked in water with green chilies and salt. Coconut milk are added to the mixture. Once cooked, curry leaves and coconut oil can be used to add flavor.
Aviyal – It is a vegetarian meal prepared for Onam. In this recipe, vegetables are cooked in water with some chilies and salt. Finely ground coconut pulp and tamarind are also added to the mixture. For additional flavor, you can also add coconut oil and curry leaves.
Erisseri – This is sumptuous meal cooked with yams and raw plantain. First, it is cooked with chilies and salt. For additional flavoring, fried coconut pulp and mustard seeds can be added.
Moru Curry – Kerala is quite known for its different types of curry. One of the most popular and mostly prepared during Onam is Moru curry. It is actually yoghurt curry served with rice. The preparation usually takes about 20 minutes.
Inji Curry – It is a traditional malayalee dish made of tamarind, ginger and jagerry prepared during special occasions like Vishnu and Onam.
Pavakka Theeyal – A traditional Kerala dish made of bitter gourd cooked with spicy gravy. It is then added with flavors from spiced and coconut. Pearl onions are also added to balance the bitterness of the gourd and make it into a delicious meal. Usually served with rice.
Kaalan – It is a Malayalee dish for Onasadya made out of coconut, yogurt and raw plantain or yam. It is sourer than Aviyal.
Banana Chips – Well, as the name suggests, this recipe is made of banana turned into chips. It can be salty or sweet and prepared in Onasadya as side dish.
Pachadi – It is a side dish prepared for onasadya traditionally made of different vegetables, with chilies and flavored with concoction of oil with ginger, curry leaves and mustard seeds.
Kichadi – It is a Malayalee recipe made of cucumber and curd. This is one of the most popular dish for Onasadya.
Rasam – It is basically a soup prepared in Southern India during Ona,. Traditionally, this dish is prepared using the tamarind juice as its base, with some chili pepper and tomatoes. Seasonings like pepper, cumin are added for flavors.
Sambar – This is one of the most delicious onam dishes prepared for Onasadya. Every household in the state of Kerala prepare Sambar.
Greeting each other a happy onam is one of the best part of the celebration of Onam. You would want to wish your loved and dear ones to have a prosperous celebration. Here are some of the onam wishes that you can express.
May the festival of Onam
bring good luck to your doorsteps
and fill your home with bags of delightful surprises.
Best wishes to you and your family!
May the great Mahabali
grant you prosperity
as he visits your home on this Onam festivity.
Have a great Onam!
Peace and prosperity I pray for you to keep
Blessings and strength on your life’s trip
May this Onam bring blissful memories to you
And smiles as you celebrate this festival too.
Let smiles be carved on your face
as we commemorate the homecoming of the great Mahabali.
Surely, he will answer all your wishes and prayers.
A jubilant Onam to you!
Before the people get crazy commemorating this festival, let me be the first one to send this warm greeting to you.
May all your wishes come true!
What a high-spirited merriment
On this festive day of Onam
People everywhere are jumping with joy
Savor each moment for you to enjoy.
May every Malayali celebrate this Onam
with joy and gladness in their hearts and thoughts
wherever they are dispelled in the world.
May the prosperous spirit of Onam festivity reign your hearts with faith in God above.
May your life as colorful as flowers displayed in the revelries of Onam.
And hope you’ll shine forevermore.
Best wishes to you this day of Onam.
As you welcome the presence of the great Mahabali during this return,
Courtesy: Onam Wishes
embrace the blessings that he will endow to you.
Cheers to triumphs and prosperity!
Enjoy well this Onam festival.
Onam festival is also known for its outdoor and indoor sporting events and games that make the celebration even more festive and enjoyable. Aside from card, board and dice games, folks are also playing personal combats, football matched, boxing and archery. There are corresponding games for all ages for people to participate in and feel the excitement of the festivities.
Talappanthukali – This is one of the most popular games played during Onam festival. This is basically a ball game in which the players can play in two groups. In this game, a ball made of pebbles wrapped with layers of dried plantain and a stick is used. An open space with lines serves as the playing ground. The stick will be planted in one of the sides of the court. The player will then serve the ball, with the goal of hitting the stick. The opponent should catch it for the server to be ousted from the game.
Kayyankali – This is an extremely dangerous and risky onam game that attests and displays the player’s strength and power. In this game, two men will duel without using any kind of weapon. In ancient time, this game, for it is so dangerous, could result to blood and death.
Ambeyyal – Players are divided into two groups in this archery game. They will then shoot each other with blunted arrows. In this game, skill, persistence and patience of the players are put into test. But with the force applied to the arrows, some might get hurt with this game.
Attakalam – This is another kind of combat game however, unlike Kayyankali, is less risk and dangerous and is played by groups. The game is done in a large circle drawn in sand. The first group will be positioned inside the circle. The member of the rival group will then try to bring them out of the circle. The group who can drag most number of members outside the circle win.
Kutukutu, also called as Kabbaddi, is a simple but fun group game. Two groups consist of eight players each can play this game. This game tests player’s lung and physical strength. The court is divided into 2 parts for each group. The first member of one team advances from central line of the court and run to the opponent’s area while shouting “Kutu-Kutu” continuously without breathing. This member has to touch the rival team members and hurry back to where he started without stopping from uttering Kutu Kutu or being caught. If failed, the player will be ousted from the game.
To find more information about Onam, try these links:
travel.indiamart.com - Onam - The harvest festival of Kerala
- Special onam recipes : Moru curry, Theeyal, Thoran, Injipuli, ...