“Onam” has already turned itself into one of the most celebrated festival season for the people of Kerala. Conducted as a secular festival, this celebration takes its root from the fable of King “Mahabali”. Onam falls in the Malayalam month of “Chingam” which normally comes during the English months of August – September. The festival is also a time when the traditional harvesting season of Kerala begins.
As per the myths, the time when king Mahabali ruled Kerala was one of the most prosperous times for the kingdom. The folksongs say the following details regarding the ruling of King Mahabali.
“Maveli Naadu Vaneedum Kaalam,
Maanusharellarum Onnu Pole.
Aamodathode Vasikkum Kalam
Aapathangarkkumottilla Thanaum.” .., Continues….!
While these are the first couple of lines of the song which praises the ruling of the king, the rest too follows the same path. As per those lines, we could get a clear picture of the king that he served people very well, and the people loved him the most. After some unfortunate incidents the king was expelled from his ruling and was forced to migrate to “Pathalam” (Under the soil). But, he comes once in every year as per the wish to visit his beloved people after lord Vishnu’s blessing. People of Kerala considers this particular period as the arrival of their beloved king “Mahabali”.
The “Onam” celebrations spans for a time period of ten days, starting from “Atham” and ends with “Thiruvonam” – the first ten days of the month Chingam according to the calendar of Kerala. Even after the ten days, the celebrations stretches its hands to the next couple of days, “Avittam” and “Chathayam” - respectively celebrated as third and fourth Onam.
When describing the Onam celebration of a typical Malayali house, what comes first to our mind is the “Pookkalam”. It is the placement of various flowers in a beautifully arranged way typically in a circular shape. However, the size and shape of pookalams are subjected for changes according to the aesthetic senses of people. During the days of celebration of Onam, various organizations used to conduct Pookkalam competitions, which most of the times result in making gigantic as well as extremely beautiful Pookalams. And as per the rituals, people place “Thrikkakkara Appan” (A shape made up of clay, which is believed as god Vishnu in the form of Vamana) and lighted lamps inside the circle.
Even though we could feel the unity everywhere among Malayalies, we could find some different types of celebration in different regions of Kerala, but all Malayalies celebrates those events with equal joy. Boat races are conducted across the state, such as “Aaranmula Vallamkali” in Aaranmula - which is a place in the Pathanamthitta district in Kerala. Other major boat race tournaments are “Champakkulam vallamkali”, “Presidents trophy vallamkali”. All these tournaments are conducted amidst huge fanfare among the people and the events witness huge influx of people from various parts of the state.
Besides, the other main attractions of Onam are “Ona Sadhya”- A grand feast that including more than ten different curries being served in big banana leafs, “Pulikkali” – The performance made by trained artists disguised as tigers in order to entertain public and is conducted in the district Thrissur. Apart from these attractive celebrations, the period of “Onam” also witnesses some colorful celebrations such as “Thiruvathirakkali”, “Onathallu”, “Thumbi Tullal”, “Kazhchakkula”, “Athachamayam” etc. Onam is also the time, when people purchase new dresses which are popularly called as “Onakkodi”.
Even though many NRKs’ (Non Residential Keralites) living in foreign places misses their home land, they too celebrate the festival by arranging almost every traditional material in order to experience the soul of “Onam”. Somehow, this also helps in uniting people despite their differences and forms one of the main cultural events of Kerala.