Introduction: ‘Onam’ is a harvest festival representing boon of happiness and prosperity blessed by the deity that briefs the recalling of Vamana avatar of Vishnu and the subsequent, king Mahabali scripted in mythology.
Occurrence: The harvest festival ‘Onam’ falls in the month of Chingam (as per Malayam Calendar) that starts within a fortnight of the same and lasts till ten days.
Rituals: This festive eve symbolizes the rich cultural heritage of India that leaps to its youth when this harvest festival marks its presence. The customary tradition of Kerala enriched with the trends that line-up to be celebrated till ten days penetrates happiness and joy in the surrounding with the delightful rituals, traditional cuisine, dance and music. Ten day lasting procession of ‘Onam’ displays all the colours of kerala’s culture with more than 50 floats and 100 tableaux.
- Pookkalam: ‘Onapookkalam’ is a colorful floral carpet that is woven by the celebrants till ten days as being a part of the customary tradition of this festival. This is a master work of delicacy representing artistic sense blended with creativity. A miniature pandal, decorated with erected festoons, is shielded temporarily after completion of Pookkalam. Taditionally, it is made up of endemic blossoms of Kerala and the Dashapushpam (10 florals) but now-a-days flowers are ordered from any region. The mounting mounds are supposed to be the icon of Mahabali and Vamana that are erected on the dung-plastered courtyards. Now, patterns of Pookkalam are evolved to various attractive designs for winning the competition on the day of Onam.
- Onam Sadya (feast): It is a grand feast in which food is served on plantain leaves having variable curries of 13 to 15 varieties along with pickles, papadam and dessert ‘Payasam’.
- Boat race: The Aranmula and the Nehru Trophy Boat Race are arranged as part of the tradition called the “Vallamkali”. About 100 oarsmen stand in a queue to witness the thrilling boat race.
- Other customs:
- Onakkodi: People buy new cloths under this tradition.
- Onathhappan: There is a tradition of installing the statue of Thrikkakara Appan or “Onathhappan”.
- Onappaatt: People put on robes that give them magnetic look and sing ‘Onappaatt’ (Onam song) while swinging and swaying on swings.
- Onakkalikal: The indulgence of people in various dances and games during and post-thiruvonam.
- Oriyady: It’s a tradition of indulging in the competitions such as Ox race and food eating competition etc.
Ten days of celebration:
- Atham: It marks as the first day of the harvest festival ‘Onam’ as per Chingam (the Malayalam month), i.e. the day when Mahabali descended from Pathala to Kerala. The bugle of celebration also kicks off in the abode of Mahabali, i.e. Thrikkakara temple, in grand style via a grandeur procession that takes place at Thrippunithura near Kochi known as Atthachamayam. Before independence, it was a religious affair headed by the Kochi Maharaj but subsequent to freedom, people have taken the charge of cultural procession. Tableaux, including procession of elephants, art forms, music and dance, adds fascination and bliss to this grand celebration of Athachamyam. The process of weaving and laying a Pookkalam (floral carpet) made of yellow flowers begins on this very day when it appears small in size, called Athapoo. Day after day, this simple design of Pookkalam is woven longer and longer. The idols of Mahabali and Vamana are enshrined at each house on this day.
- Chithira: On second day of celebration, second layer is added to the existing design of Pookkalam using two different colours besides yellow. And people sweep their households for final preparation of Thiruvonam day celebration.
- Chodhi: More layers are woven with different coloured blossoms to elongate Pookkalam. Since Onam is pertained to exchange of gifts so people go for shopping on this day to buy cloths and jewellery.
- Vishakam: The most auspicious day is the fourth day of Onam. This is the day attributed to the sale of harvest on this day. This day triggers Onam-related competitions, such as Pookkalam competitions etc.
- Anizham: Snake Boats are made ready for taking part in Vallam Kali (snake boat) on the day of Aranmula Uthrattathi Vallamkali Anizham. People conduct a dress-rehearsal in mock style of Vallam Kali.
- Thriketa: The craze of celebration begins to roll up as most of the educational institutions (school and colleges) are called off so that people can go for get-together with their kins. Pookkalam looks magnificent in its larger pattern embellished with colorful flowers of 5 to 6 varied types.
- Moolam: This is the seventh day of Onam on which smaller version of traditional ‘Ona Sadya’ (a special buffet lunch) is held. Special Sadhyas are offered since this day during which Puli Kali (Masked Leopard Dance) traditional dance forms, such as Kaikotti Kali are performed in various functions. Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram and Kozikode are illuminated like a bride to mark the occasion as ‘spectacular’.
- Pooradam: On this eighth day of Onam, people wash and clean the idols of Mahabali and Vamana as a special ritual for circumambulating them the house. Then, these idols are renamed as ‘Onathappan’ before erecting them in the middle of the Pookkalam while smearing with a rice-flour batter. People hit the shop and stalls for making their final purchase for Thiruvonam day and the Pookkalam design is woven larger than before.
- Uthradom: The ninth day of Onam is pertained to the shopping of fresh fruits and vegetables that surges high on “Uthradappachil”. As per myth, King Mahabali descended to Kerala for staying there till four days on this day. Thus, Uthradom becomes the occasion to joy in pompous way with larger pookkalams and while relishing grand lunch generally. With cutting of the vegetables for beginning preparation of Thiruvonam since evening, women seem busy for the grand celebration to be held on the next day.
- Thiruvonam: This day is also known as ‘Thiru-Onam’ (Sacred Onam) or the Second Onam. People get indulged in the preparation, such as decorating house using batter of rice-flour, taking early bath, wearing new cloths and giving alms to needy ones. Special pray-sessions are arranged in religious shrines. The fabulous pattern of Pookkalam becomes ready to welcome the king ‘Mahabali’. Kerala is illuminated with amazing bulbs, lights and astonishing fireworks. Onam Sadya (feast) is cooked. During noon, traditional games played on this eve are arranged by local associations & clubs atc. Thiruvathirakali, Kummattikali, Pulikari or Onakkalikal dances steal the heart of viewers.