Onam is the national festival of Kerala. It is celebrated is during the month of August-September. The festival cherishes the memory of the legendary King Mahabali and his prosperous reign during which, perfect communal harmony and prosperity prevailed. It was a glorious period and people were happy. The King Mahabali's popularity was at its height and led to the envy of the Gods. This golden age ended when Vamana, the dwarf incarnation of Vishnu expelled him from his throne to the neitherlands. But Mahabali was allowed to visit his dear subjects once in a year.

He visits his dear Kingdom during the first Malayalam month of Chingam an occasion that fills the whole state with joy and merriment.

Onam is also the harvest season. Nature is divinely beautiful and Kerala becomes lush green with the spring season. Flowers bloom in plenty and butterflies bring a rainbow of colour. The people decorating their houses with `Onapookalam´ or floral arrangements on floor to welcome Mahabali. A grand lunch with 21 curries and three types of sweet porridges or `payasam´ are prepared and enjoyed with fervour. Songs in praise of Mahabali and his golden reign are sung along with kaikottikali – danced by maidens in the household. Onam is is celebrated in ten day long festivities.

Atham is the first day of celebrations and Thiruvonam is the grand finale. Uthradom, the day before Thiruvonam, is a day of great significance. From Atham to Thiruvonam, on all days, people make floral decoration in the front yard or verandah of their houses.
The idol of Thrikkakara Appan (synonym of Mahabali) made of clay is placed in the middle of the floral decoration with utmost
reverence and devotion.

On Thiruvonam day special pujas are offered in temples early in the morning after which elder members of family will give presents to the younger members. All people of Kerala without exceptions celebrate Onam. The season is celebrated in the state with tourist festivals. The state Tourism organisations conduct various cultural events, shows, exhibitions, boat races, community feasts etc during this season. Onam is one of the oldest existing festivals of India.

The Harvest Festival
Onam, the harvest festival is the most popular festival of Kerala. A festival that celebrates a happy blend of myth and reality, Onam is part of the cultural repertoire of every Malayalee.

It brings back nostalgic memories, carried on the wings of folklore, of a bygone Utopian era of prosperity, equality and righteousness, under the golden reign of Mahabali. Year after year, for centuries, the people of Kerala, irrespective of caste, creed or colour, join together to welcome back their vanquished king.

The ten-day Onam festival falls in August-September, coinciding with the beginning of the harvest season.

The Legend
According to local belief, in a war that took place between the gods and the demons, the demons won. Deeply hurt by the defeat of the gods, Aditi, their mother prayed to Lord Vishnu to destroy Mahabali, the demon king.

Consequently, Lord Vishnu, in the guise of a Brahmin boy, Vamanan, went to Mahabali and asked him to grant him three steps of land. The wish was granted and Vamanan covered the whole land with his two steps and then he came back to the King asking him where can he place the third step.

The king to honour his word, offered his head as the third step. Vamanan pushed Mahabali deep down into the earth. Pleased by his honesty and generosity, the lord in turn granted him a wish that he could he could visit his kingdom and people on a particular day once a year.

The Festivity
Preparation of a floral carpet called "Athappookkalam" in front of houses, from the first day of 'Atham' to the tenth day of 'Thiruvonam' is part of the festivities, which is a symbolic gesture to welcome King Mahabali.

The state government conducts Tourism Week celebrations in connection with Onam, showcasing the gems of Kerala's culture. Onam resonates with Carnivals, Boat Races, Dance, Music and Feast.

A sumptious meal on plantain leaf and the traditional sweet dish of Kerala 'Payasam' etc are served in every house The pomp and pageantry of Onam reflects the Keralite's zest for all the beautiful things of life.

Onam is celebrated throughout Kerala; singing and merry making is its hallmark. Onam depicts the story of Mahabali the king who rules the country during a time of prosperity. He still visits Kerala annually to bless the people. The women dress up and decorate the entrance to their homes to welcome Mahabali. The whole state comes alive with festivity and activity. A time for prayers and ceremonies, a time to celebrate and rejoice, a time for fun and sports. A time for the snake boat festival.


Onam being celebrated in Tirupati also confirms the fact that Onam was popular in the southern region before becoming confined to Kerala after the 10th century AD.
Mangudy Marudanar, one of the noted poets of the Sangam Age, is said to have Commemoration Of A Glorious Past described the Onam celebrations in the Pandyan capital of Madurai in one of his poems. Onam has been around for a long time. Apparently it used to be celebrated during the Sangam period in the first few centuaries C.E. Onam festivities have been recorded during the time Kulasekhara Perumals (800 C.E.). Those were the days when Onam used to be a full month long.


sajith90 said...

Onam is Malayalees very important Festival Celebrated all over kerala. Enjoy Onam 2008 (sept 12).

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marilyn scott said...

Such a beautiful post about Onam. What I like about onam is its festivities and of course Onam pookalam competition! Best Onam wishes to all Malayalees around the world! Happy Onam!