Onam Festival: The Celebratory Harvest Festival of Kerala
Onam Festival is a vibrant harvest festival that is celebrated with great enthusiasm in the southern Indian state of Kerala. This festival is marked by colorful decorations, traditional cuisine, cultural performances, and various customs and rituals that signify the rich heritage and diversity of the region. Let’s delve deeper into the history, significance, and traditions associated with the Onam festival in this article.
Origin and Mythology of Onam
Onam is a Hindu festival that has its roots in the mythology of the Mahabharata. It is believed to commemorate the homecoming of the legendary king Mahabali, who is revered as a just and benevolent ruler. According to the legend, Mahabali, also known as Maveli, was a demon king who ruled over Kerala during a golden age of prosperity and abundance. He was loved and respected by his subjects, who lived in peace and harmony under his rule.
However, the gods became jealous of Mahabali’s success and power, and they conspired to remove him from his throne. They sent Lord Vishnu, one of the supreme deities, in the form of a dwarf Brahmin named Vamana to Mahabali’s court. Vamana requested land that measured the equivalent of his three footsteps, which Mahabali granted. However, Vamana then revealed his true identity and grew to an enormous size, covering the entire earth in two steps. For his third step, Mahabali offered his own head, and was banished to the netherworld. However, Lord Vishnu was impressed with Mahabali’s devotion and granted him a boon that allowed him to return to Kerala once a year and visit his beloved subjects.
Significance of Onam
Onam is a time of abundance, prosperity, and happiness. It symbolizes the unity and diversity of the people of Kerala, as well as their strong connection to the land and nature. It is believed that Mahabali’s annual visit brings good fortune and blessings to the people, and that the festival strengthens the bonds between family, friends, and community.
Preparations for Onam
Preparations for Onam start weeks in advance, with people cleaning and decorating their homes, buying new clothes, and preparing traditional delicacies. The festival is marked by the creation of a floral carpet called ‘Pookalam’, which is made using different colored flowers arranged in intricate designs. In addition, various cultural and artistic events such as music and dance performances, drama, and exhibitions are held in the run-up to the festival.
Onam celebrations are usually held in the Indian state of Kerala during the first month of the Malayalam calendar, called Chingam. The festival typically lasts for ten days, and the main day of celebration, Thiruvonam, falls on the second day of the festival. The exact date of Thiruvonam varies each year according to the Malayalam calendar and falls sometime between August and September in the Gregorian calendar.
The festival of Onam is celebrated over a period of ten days, with each day having its own unique significance and rituals.
Atham Day marks the beginning of the Onam festival, and is when the first floral decoration or Pookalam is created.
Chithira Day is the second day of Onam, and is when people start to decorate their homes with more elaborate Pookalams. The day is also marked by the erection of a ceremonial flag, called the ‘Onam Pookkalam’, in the central courtyard of homes and public places.
Chodhi Day is the third day of Onam, and is when people start to prepare for the grand feast that is to be held on Thiruvonam Day. Women start to make traditional sweets and delicacies, while men go out to buy fresh ingredients and meat for the feast.
Vishakam Day is the fourth day of Onam, and is marked by the arrival of the ‘Atthapookkalams’, which are eight different floral decorations that signify different aspects of the festival.
Anizham Day is the fifth day of Onam, and is when people start to make final preparations for the grand feast. The day is also marked by the performance of traditional dance forms such as ‘Thiruvathira’, which is a dance performed by women in a circle around a lighted lamp.
Thriketa Day is the sixth day of Onam, and is when people start to decorate their homes with traditional lamps called ‘Nilavilakku’. The day is also marked by the performance of traditional art forms such as ‘Pulikali’, which is a dance performed by men wearing painted tiger costumes.
Moolam Day is the seventh day of Onam, and is when people start to prepare for the grand procession that is to be held on Thiruvonam Day. The day is also marked by the performance of traditional art forms such as ‘Kummattikali’, which is a dance performed by men wearing colorful masks.
Pooradam Day is the eighth day of Onam, and is when people start to make final preparations for the grand feast. The day is also marked by the performance of traditional art forms such as ‘Kathakali’, which is a classical dance-drama that tells stories from Hindu mythology.
Uthradom Day is the ninth day of Onam, and is when people start to welcome Mahabali and his entourage. It is believed that Mahabali starts his journey from the netherworld on this day, and that he arrives in Kerala the next day.
Thiruvonam Day is the tenth and final day of Onam, and is when the grand feast is held. People wear new clothes, exchange gifts, and enjoy a sumptuous feast called ‘Onam Sadhya’, which comprises of over 20 different vegetarian dishes served on a banana leaf. The day is also marked by the performance of traditional art forms such as ‘Vallamkali’, which is a boat race that is held on the backwaters of Kerala.
Onam Sadhya is the grand feast that is held on Thiruvonam Day. It is a vegetarian feast that comprises of over 20 different dishes served on a banana leaf. Some of the popular dishes include ‘Avial’, which is a mixed vegetable curry, ‘Sambar’, which is a lentil-based vegetable stew, and ‘Payasam’, which is a sweet pudding made with rice and jaggery.
Onam Games and Sports
Onam is also a time for sports and games, with various traditional events such as ‘Tug of War’, ‘Kabaddi’, and ‘Uriyadi’ being held
during the festival. ‘Uriyadi’ is a game in which a pot of buttermilk is hung high from a rope, and young men form a human pyramid to reach and break the pot, while being drenched in buttermilk.
Onam Shopping and Decorations
Onam is a time for shopping and decorations, with people buying new clothes, jewelry, and household items for the festival. The markets are filled with vendors selling traditional items such as ‘kasavu sarees’, which are white and gold sarees worn by women, and ‘mundus’, which are traditional lungis worn by men. Homes are decorated with flowers and colorful lights, and elaborate ‘Pookalams’ are created using a variety of flowers.
Onam is a significant festival for the people of Kerala, as it celebrates the return of the mythical king Mahabali, who is believed to have ruled over Kerala in ancient times. The festival also celebrates the harvest season, with people offering thanks to the gods for a bountiful crop. Onam is a time for families and friends to come together, and is marked by a spirit of love, harmony, and unity.
Onam is a vibrant and colorful festival that is celebrated with great fervor by the people of Kerala. It is a time for feasting, shopping, and traditional activities such as dance and sports. The festival is a reminder of the rich cultural heritage of Kerala, and is an occasion for families and friends to come together and celebrate their shared traditions and values.
- What is the significance of Onam festival? Onam festival is a celebration of the harvest season and the return of the mythical king Mahabali.
- How long does Onam festival last? Onam festival lasts for ten days.
- What is the grand feast called in Onam festival? The grand feast in Onam festival is called ‘Onam Sadhya’.
- What are some traditional activities that are performed during Onam festival? Some traditional activities that are performed during Onam festival include ‘Pookalam’ decoration, dance forms such as ‘Kathakali’ and ‘Thiruvathira’, and sports such as ‘Tug of War’ and ‘Kabaddi’.
- What is the significance of ‘Uriyadi’ game in Onam festival? ‘Uriyadi’ is a game that symbolizes the human struggle to achieve success, and is played during Onam festival to celebrate the spirit of perseverance and determination.
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