The gods own country, Kerala is all geared up to celebrate the traditional harvest festival of Onam. Rich in culture, traditions and heritage, the entire state will witnesses 10 daylong celebrations to mark the return of the mythological king Mahabali, who sacrificed his life for the well being of people.
Onam is a major annual event for Malayalis in and outside Kerala. It marks the summer harvest and is celebrated with numerous festivities. It includes Vallam Kali (boat races), Pulikali (tiger dances), Pookkalam (flower arrangement), Onathappan (worship), Onam Kali, Tug of War, Thumbi Thullal (women’s dance), Kummati kali (mask dance), Onathallu (martial arts), Onavillu (music), Kazhchakkula (plantain offerings), Onapottan (costumes), Atthachamayam (folk songs and dance), and other celebrations.
Carnival of Onam lasts from four to ten days. First day, Atham and tenth day, Thiru Onam are most important of all. Popularity and presentation of rich culture of the state during the carnival made Onam the National Festival of Kerala in 1961. Elaborate feasts, folk songs, elegant dances, energetic games, elephants, boats and flowers all are a part of the dynamic festival called Onam.
Government of India has taken due notice of this vibrant and colorful festival. It promotes Onam internationally in a big way and celebrates ‘Tourist Week’ for Kerala during Onam celebrations. Thousands of domestic and foreign tourists visit Kerala to be a part of it.
Thiru Onam falls on September 4 this year
Onam is celebrated during the month of August-September. In the beginning of the Chingam, the first month of Malyalam calander (Kollavarsham). The most important day falls on Thiru Onam which is falling on September 4 this year. The celebrations begin almost 10 days before Thiru Onam. Atham marks the beginning of the rituals, falling on August 25 2017.
Onam has four main days of festivities and mark the dates for this year, First Onam will be on September 3, the day before Thiru Onam and fourth Onam falls on September 6.
Why is Onam celebrated?
Here goes the story behind Kerala’s biggest festival. It all started during the reign of the Asura king Mahabali who ruled what is known as present day Kerala. The king was loved by everyone and made him and his state popular. He extended his rule from the earthly realm and went on to conquer the netherworld and the heavens. The gods also started feeling challenged by the growing powers of Mahabali. So, mother of the Devas, Aditi pleaded before Vishnu to intervene to contain Mahabali’s powers.
Instead of confronting Mahabali on the battlefield, Lord Vishnu transformed himself into a dwarf Brahmin called Vamana – who is recognised as the fifth avatar of Vishnu. He descended upon the earth when Mahabali was performing a yagna and would be obliged to grant any Brahmin’s wishes. Vamana impressed Mahabali with his wisdom and asked for alms, in return the king granted him a wish inspite of his guru Shukracharya talking him out of the situation. But Mahabali granted Vamana a wish and he asked for just three paces of land.
Mahabli assumed how much land would a dwarf need. But Vamana revealed his true identity and grew in stature with his first step he covered the sky and stars were blotted. In the second step, Vamana covered the netherworld and when he was about to take the final step which could have destroyed earth, a humble Mahabali offered his own head. Vishnu in the avatar of Vamana banished him but gave him boon that once a year Mahabali will be allowed to visit his people. Onam marks the day when Kerala’s beloved king Mahabali returns to earth. And the state pulls all stops to pay tribute to the king who sacrificed his life for his kingdom.
Atham is the day when people do preparations for Mahabali’s return to the earth. On this auspicious day, the devotee’s day begins earlier than usual, they take a bath, offer prayers at home or local temple. People draw floral rangolis called ‘pookalam’ just outside the main doors of their homes. Traditional pookalams have ten rings, each of which represents a particular God in the Hindu religion. On Atham, yellow flower dominates the pookalams.
The state government also declares Tourism Week in Kerala during Onam to showcase the culture and heritage to tourists. The festival also witnesses traditional feasts on banana leaves, dancing, snake boat races, mask dance and so many festival attractions.
Food plays an important part in every celebration in our country and Onam is no different. A grand feast called Onasadya is served on the main Onam day that is Thiru Onam. The cuisine is elaborate with lots of variety of local dishes to relish on. Onasadya is served daily at Thrikkara Temple where thousands of people are served the delicious meal on the main Onam day.
(With external inputs)