Customs of Onam

Carnival of Onam encompasses a spectrum of fascinating activities. Traditional people of Kerala even go out of their way to celebrate the festival exhaustive of stipulated customs and traditions in full grandiose.

Besides the various rituals that are meant to be completed in individual households, there are a lot of customary activities that are organised at the level of society and city all over the state.

Athachamyam is a grand procession that marks the beginning of the grand carnival of Onam. 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 organised at Alappuzha. 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 organised 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.

Procession of Decked Elephants
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.

Celebrations at Cheruthuruthy
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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