Onam Malayalam: ഓണം Date Thiruvonam Nakshatra in the month of Chingam 2016 date-14 September
The harvest festival Onam (Malayalam: ഓണം) is the biggest festival celebrated in Kerala, It is also the State festival of Kerala with State holidays on 4 days starting from Onam Eve (Uthradom) to the 3rd Onam Day.
The festival falls during the Malayalam month of Chingam (Aug – Sep) and marks the commemoration of home-coming of the King Mahabali. In Kerala, it is the festival celebrated with most number of cultural elements such as Vallam Kali, Pulikali, Pookkalam, Onathappan, Tug of War, Thumbi Thullal, Kummati kali, Onathallu, Onavillu, Kazhchakkula, Onapottan, Atthachamayam etc. Onam is reminiscent of Kerala’s agrarian past, as it is considered to be a harvest festival.
Onam is a community festival
Onam is an ancient festival which still survives in modern times. It’s one of the rarest festival which is celebrated by a complete state, irrespective of religion, caste and creed.
Kerala’s rice harvest festival and the Festival of Rain Flowers, which fall on the month of Chingam, celebrates the Asura King Mahabali’s annual visit from Patala (the underworld). Onam is unique since Mahabali (locally known as Maveli) has been revered by the people of Kerala. The King is so much attached to his kingdom that it is believed that he comes annually from the nether world to see his people living happily. It is in honour of King Mahabali that Onam is celebrated.
The deity Vamana, also called Thrikkakarappan is also revered during this time by installing a clay figure next to the floral carpet (Pookalam). The birthday of Sri Padmanabhan, the presiding Deity of Thiruvananthapuram, is on the Thiruvonam day in the month of Chingam. Thiruonam day is the most important day of Onam. In Onam 2016, Thiruvonam date is 14 September.
Mahabali’s rule is considered the golden era of Kerala, ancient Bharata. The following song is often sung over Onam:
Maveli nadu vaneedum kalam,
amodhathode vasikkum kalam
Dushtare kankondu kanmanilla
Nallavarallathe illa paaril..illa paaril
kallavum illa chathiyumilla
Ellam kanakkinu thulyamaayi..thulyamaayi
When Maveli ruled the land,
All the people were equal-
Times when people were joyful and merry;
They were all free from harm.
There was neither anxiety nor sickness,
Deaths of children were unheard of,
No wicked person was in sight anywhere
All the people on the land were good.
There was neither theft nor deceit,
And no false words or promises.
Measures and weights were right;
There were no lies,
No one cheated or wronged his neighbor.
When Maveli ruled the land,
All the people formed one casteless race
Onam mythology may have been devised as a political allegory/tool where by the subjects could remind the rulers about an Ideal King and a welfare state. Onam songs mentions many of the modern social/economic indicators of a Welfare State including Crime rates, Child Mortality rates etc. Rulers may also have promoted it as it may have served as an indicator/barometer of the popularity/unpopularity of their Governance policies. The beauty of the festival lies in its secular fabric. People of all religions, castes and communities celebrate the festival with equal joy and verve. Onam also helps to create an atmosphere of peace and brotherhood by way of various team sports organised on the day.
Rituals and activities
Onam falls in the month of Chingam, which is the first month according to the Malayalam Calendar. The celebrations begin within a fortnight of the Malayalam New Year and go on for ten days. All over the state of Kerala, festive rituals, traditional cuisine, dance and music mark this harvest festival. The ten-day Onam festival is considered to be flagged off with Atthachamayam (Royal Parade on Atham Day) in Thripunithara (a suburb of Kochi City).
The parade is colourful and depicts all the elements of Kerala culture with more than 50 floats and 100 tableaux. The main centre of festival is at Vamanamoorthy Thrikkakara temple within Kochi City, believed to be the ancient capital of King Mahabali. The temple is dedicated to Lord Vamana and is directly linked to the mythological background of Onam.
The ten days of Onam are celebrated with great fanfare, by Malayalees. Of all these days, most important ones are the first day, Atham, and the tenth and final day, Thiru-Onam (Thiruvonam). The rich cultural heritage of Kerala comes out in its best form and spirit during the festival.
The floral carpet, known as ‘Onapookkalam’, is made out of the gathered blossoms with several varieties of flowers of differing tints pinched up into little pieces to serve the decorator’s purpose. It is considered a 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.
Traditionally, Atthapookalams (pookalam made on the Atham day) included flowers endemic to Kerala and the Dashapushpam (10-flowers), but nowadays all varieties of flowers are used.
Earthen mounds, which look somewhat like square pyramids, representing Mahabali and Vamana are placed in the dung-plastered courtyards in front of the house along with the Pookalam, and beautifully decorated with flowers. In the recent years, the floral designs have evolved from the traditional circular shape to unique designs depicting different cultural and social aspects of Kerala life. All over Kerala, Pookalam competitions are a common sight on Onam day. People start putting atha-pookalams from Atham ( First day of 10-day festival ) till thiruvonam, while only some put Onam Pookalams till the 28th day after thiruvonam.
Onam is the harvest festival of Kerala, India. This is a special feast lunch on that day served on banana leaf traditionally. There will be usually rice and more than 10 side dishes and a sweet at the end.
The Onam sadya (feast) is another very indispensable part of Thiruvonam, and almost every Keralite attempts to either make or attend one. The feast is served on plantain leaves and consists of about 26 dishes, including (but not limited to)
Chips (especially Banana chips)
Sharkaraveratti (Fried pieces of banana coated with jaggery)
Various vegetable curries such as
Dal served along with a small quantity of ghee
Moru (Curd with water)
Pickles, both sweet and sour
Two different types of buttermilk
A chutney powder prepared from grated coconut
A series of dessert called Payasam (a sweet dish made of milk, sugar, jaggery and other traditional Indian savories) eaten either straight or mixed with a ripe small plantain.
In hotels and temples, the number of curries and dishes may go up to 30. The importance of the feast to the Kerala’s Onam celebration culture is captured in the famous Malayalam proverb “Kaanam Vittum Onam Unnanam” which means “One must have the Onam lunch even selling his property, to have so”
Happy Onam to All ….