AthapookkalamOnam is the biggest and most ancient festival of Kerala, celebrated by people of all religions and facets of life. Onam reflects the faith of the people of Kerala. A belief in their legendary past, religion and power of worship. 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. It falls during the first month of Malayalam calendar which is Chingam (August–September) and marks the homecoming of the legendary King Mahabali. The festival lasts for ten days and is linked to many elements of Kerala's culture and tradition. Intricate flower carpets (atham), elaborate banquet lunch(ona sadya) , Snake Boat races (Vallamkali) and the Thiruvathira dance all play a part in the festival. For this festival, people wear new clothes: men a shirt and mundu, women mundu and Nariathu. Onam is the harvest festival in Kerala.

The Legend

Story goes that during the reign of mighty asura (demon) king, Mahabali, Kerala witnessed its golden era. Every body in the state was happy and prosperous and king was highly regarded by his subjects. Apart from all his virtues, Mahabali had one shortcoming. He was egoistic. This weakness in Mahabali's character was utilized by Gods to bring an end to his reign as they felt challenged by Mahabali's growing popularity. However, for all the good deed done by Mahabali, God granted him a boon that he could annually visit his people with whom he was so attached.

It is this visit of Mahabali that is celebrated as Onam every year. People make all efforts to celebrate the festival in a grand way and impress upon their dear King that they are happy and wish him well.

Onam Song: Maveli Naadu Vaneedum Kalam

In Malayalam Transliteration from Malayalam English Translation
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Maveli nadu vanidum kalam
manusharellarum onnupole
amodathode vassikkum kalam
apathangarkkumottilla thanum
adhikal vyadhikal onnumilla
bala maranangal kelkkanilla
kallavumilla chathiyumilla
ellolamilla poli vachanam
kallapparayum cheru naziyum
kallatharangal mattonumilla
When Maveli, our King, ruled the land,
All the people had equality.
And people were joyful and merry;
They were all free from harm.
There was neither anxiety nor sickness,
Death of the children was never even heard of,
There were no lies,
There was neither theft nor deceit,
And no one was false in speech either.


Onam Celebrations

Rich cultural heritage of Kerala comes out in its best form and spirit during the ten day long festival. It is indeed a treat to be a part of the grand carnival. People of Kerala make elaborate preparations to celebrate it in the best possible manner.

The most impressive part of Onam celebration is the grand feast called Onasadya, prepared on Thiruonam. It is a nine course meal consisting of 10 to 12 essential dishes. Onasadya is served on banana leaves and people sit on a mat laid on the floor to have the meal. (People of Kerala are extremely passionate about this. Even if they cannot easily afford, they will anyhow prepare the meal inclusive of all the prescribed dishes. This has led to the saying in Malayalam, "Kanam Vittu Onam Unnanam" which means, "We should have the lunch on Thiruonam even if we have to sell all our properties".)

Another enchanting feature of Onam is Vallamkali, the Snake Boat Race, held on the river Pampa. It is a colourful sight to watch the decorated boat oared by hundreds of boatmen amidst chanting of songs and cheering by spectators.

There is also a tradition to play games, collectively called Onakalikal, on Onam. Men go in for rigorous sports like Talappanthukali (played with ball), Ambeyyal (Archery), Kutukutu and combats called Kayyankali and Attakalam. Women indulge in cultural activities. They make intricately designed flower mats called, Pookalam in the front courtyard of house to welcome King Mahabali. Kaikotti kali and Thumbi Thullal are two graceful dances performed by women on Onam. Folk performances like Kummatti kali and Pulikali add to the zest of celebrations.