The celebrations of Onam start on Atham day, 10 days before onam. Earthen mounds, which look somewhat like square pyramids, representing Mahabali and Vamanan(an Avatar of Vishnu) are placed in the dung-plastered courtyards in front of the house and beautifully decorated with flowers. Known as ‘Onapookkalam’, it is a carpet made out of the gathered blossoms with one or two varieties of foliage of differing tints pinched up into little pieces to serve the decorator’s purpose. It is a beautiful work of art accomplished with a delicate touch and a highly artistic sense of tone and blending. (In a similar manner North Indians make something called “Rangoli” which is made of powders of various colors.) When completed, a miniature pandal, hung with little festoons is erected over it.
The important part of the festival opens in some localities on Thiruvonam day and in others on the previous day known as Uthradam. On Thiruvonam day, King Mahabali is believed to visit every Malayalee home and meet his people. Houses are cleaned and decorated with flowers and traditional lamps. A fabulous display of fireworks turns the capital Thiruvananthapuram into a veritable fairyland. Sumptuous feasts are prepared in every household. The eldest member of each family presents clothes to all the members of the family. Even the poorest of the poor manage to find something for himself to celebrate the national festival in his own humble way.
Onam comes in the month of “Chingam” according to the Malayalam Calendar. People put flower mats in front of their houses, to welcome King Mahabali. There will be competition for the laying of flower mats; Keralites all over the world will be celebrating this ten days with pomp and gaiety. They wear new dresses, visit as many temples as they can, perform dances like Thiruvathira kali Thumbi Tullal etc. to name a few. The most important thing is the grand lunch on the Thiuruvonam day, which is also called the Second Onam. Whatever may happen they will not miss the Grand lunch (sadya). There is a saying in Malayalam that “Kanam Vittum Onam Unnanam” which means “We should have the Thiruvonam lunch even if we have to sell all our thenga” which shows the importance of the grand lunch on the Thiruvonam day.
Onam is celebrated with a focus on different cultural aspects at different places. Athachamayam- a cultural procession takes place in the royal town of Tripunithura near Ernakulam-Kochi, on the Atham day of Chingam, which also marks the beginning of Onam celebrations. At the Vamanamoorthy temple in Thrikkakara, the annual temple festival coincides with Onam. The temple is dedicated to Vamana|Lord Vamana and is directly linked to the mythological background of Onam.
Onam Pookkalam is considered as a symbol for secularism. Various kinds of flowers combine together to form a great-looking pookkalam. So, it shall reflect those old good days during King Mahabali. It’s a great pleasure for people in Kerala to make Pookkalam from Atham to Thiruvonam, especially for children.
The celebrations begin within a fortnight of the Malayalam New Year and go on for ten days. The last day called the Thiruvonam is the most important. All over the state, rituals along with new clothes, traditional cuisine, dance, and music mark this harvest festival.
At Valluvanad(mainly Ottapalam, Shornur regions), Kathakali dancers in gorgeous costumes enact the legends. A strikingly impressive procession of caparisoned elephants is taken out at Thrissur, where masked dancers also go from house to house performing the colorful Kummattikali dance. At Cheruthuruthy, people gather to watch Kathakali performers enact scenes from epics and folk tales. Pulikali, also known as Kaduvakali is a common sight during Onam season. Performers painted like tigers in bright yellow, red and black, dance to the beats of instruments like Udukku and thakil.
At Aranmula, during Onam days the famous Aranmula Vallam Kali is conducted.
The swing is another integral part of Onam, especially in the rural areas. Young men and women, decked in their best, sing Onappaattu, or Onam songs, and rock one another on swings slung from high branches.
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