Kerala’s biggest festival is Onam, but there is a lot more to Onam than being just a festival. Onam reflects the faith of the people of Kerala; A belief in their legendary past, religion and power of worship.
Onam is the most important and biggest festival in the Indian state of Kerala. It is a vibrant and colorful crop festival and is celebrated with enthusiasm and joy all over the state by people of all communities.
When is Onam?
Onam the harvest festival is celebrated in the beginning of the first month of Malayalam calendar (kola Varsham) called chingam, according to Indian calendar, on the 12th day of the waxing moon in the Hindu month of Bhadon (around August September). This year Onam will celebrated on 2nd September all over the Kerala.
Legends of Onam
There are several interesting legends behind the origin of Onam. The festival is celebrated by all in the state of Kerala, but Nambudiri Brahmins of Kerala are the most spirited when it comes to Onam celebrations as they attribute its origin to their own community.
King Mahabali and Onam
The legend of King Mahabali is the most popular and the most fascinating of all legends behind Onam. Onam celebrates the visit of King Mahabali to the state of Kerala every year. According to mythology, the Bhagwat Purana (ancient Hindu scriptures) tells the engrossing story of Mahabali. He was a dignified, righteous and an asur (demon) king. It is said that if a person asked Mahabali for something he never return him disappointed.
The story is that once Mahabali wants to become more powerful so he decided to perform a Ashvamedha yagna. The devtas felt threatened so they rushed to Lord Vishnu and pray him to rein Mahabali in. Lord Vishnu takes his fifth reincarnation, Vamana (dwarf) and went to the bank of the holy Narmada River holding an umbrella in his hand. Mahabali stopped him and asked him for anything he desired. The dwarf simply asked him for the measure of area he would cover in three strides. Taken aback by such a trivial wish, Mahabali agreed. The dwarf came in his original form (Lord Vishnu), he took his first step on earth, the second foot was leisurely placed on the heaven and well, you could say that not much was left for the third step! So Mahabali, offered his head for the last stride of the Almighty. Vishnu promptly obliged, thus pushing Mahabali into the realms of the nether world. This wish, more than anything, proved how worthy a king he was. It is believed that since that day, Mahabali comes every year to visit this sun-dappled land of coconuts and his beloved people. This day is called Onam.
Onam is the biggest and the most harvest festival of Kerala. Onam continues for ten long days, most important day from them the first day, Atham and the last or tenth day, Thiru Onam.
Customs of Onam
Onam festival is a spectrum of fascinating activities. It shows the high spirit of the people who go out of the way to celebrate the festival in the prescribed manner and a grand fashion.
Celebrations of Onam
Onam festival is celebrated with gaiety and fervor by people of Kerala. This festival is celebrated for ten days period, starting from the first day Atham and continuing till tenth and the biggest day called Thiru Onam.
Onam is a day time festival. School children and some government organization like the police force participate in a parade in THiruvananthapuram and Governor takes the salute. People decorate the gates of their homes with fresh branches of red coconut, Banana leaves and coconut fronds. Women get up earlier than usual, have a bath, wear fresh clothes, neatly pin string of jasmine and other seasonal flowers in their black hairs and garnish them with jewelries. Children get dressed and go to the market to buy flowers and flower petals which they bring back to their mothers and sisters. The ‘mummies’ prepare a small part of the ground on the eastern side of the house and cow dung spread evenly on it. Then flowers are placed over this patch in beautiful patterns. These patterns are usually circular and a lump of cow dung is placed in the centre symbolising Ganesha. The creation with dung and flowers is called Attam.
Women sing songs praising the legendary King Mahabali and dance around the pookalam. On the 3rd day, people hold big feasts in their homes and invite their friends and relatives. The feast is strictly vegetarian and consists of rice, which is eaten with various curries, vegetables, curds, pickles, crisps, and sweets.