Onam Festival of Kerala

Onam Festival Date 2016

Tuesday 13 September 2016

What is Onam Festival?

Onam festival of Kerala is the biggest festival of Kerala. In fact, Onam is one of the most important festivals of Kerala mainly due to the reason that it is celebrated by all the communities in Kerala without any discrimination regarding caste, creed or religion. Traditionally, Onam is the ‘harvest festival’ of this Southern-most state of India. Onam festival lasts for full 10 days. The first day of Onam festival, Atham and the tenth day, Thiruonam are the most important of the ten days of Onam festival. A Carnival of Onam is also organized during the festival days that last from four to ten days. And because Kerala is a tourist’s heaven, the Government of India too promotes this culturally rich festival of Onam in a big way to attract the national and international tourists by celebrating ‘Tourist Week for Kerala’ on the occasion of Onam. This lets the tourists participate in the traditional vibrant and colorful festival of Onam in a big way! And yes, Onam is considered to be the State Festival of Kerala too!

When is Onam Festival Celebrated?

Onam Festival in Kerala is celebrated in the beginning of the first month of Malayalam Calendar (Kolla Varsham). This month is called Chingam which corresponds to the months of August-September of Gregorian Calendar and Bhadrapada or Bhadon month of Hindu Calendar. In this year of 2016, Onam festival falls on Tuesday 13 September 2016.

The festival of Onam is celebrated for ten days with ‘Atham’ being the first day of celebration and ‘Thiruvonam’ being the tenth day. Both of these are the most important days of Onam celebration.

Ten Days of Onam Festival Celebration

While in the olden days, the festival of Onam used to be a month long affair, in the modern times, this festival is celebrated for ten days. Each day of Onam has set rituals to follow. Here is how all the the ten days of Onam are celebrated!

Onam Festival of Kerala

Atham- 1st Day of Onam Festival

Atham is the first day of the 10 days long festivities during Onam and thus considered holy and auspicious by the people of Kerala. On this day, they take an early bath and pray in temples. They have a breakfast of steamed bananas and fried pappadam. This is a set breakfast for all the ten days of Onam. Swings are slung and decorated with flowers. Young Keralites swing and sing Oonjal (swing) songs.

One of the most distinguished activity of this day is the making of Pookalam. Pookalam refers to a floral mat intricately decorated with flowers. People collect flowers and start making Pookalam on this first day of Onam. Everyday, new flowers (based on particular flowers earmarked for each day for a specific deity) are added to this Pookalam. On first day, only yellow flowers are used to design the simple and small Pookalam, also called Athapoo on this day. It is said that Pookalam is made to welcome the holy spirit of the King Mahabali who is supposed to visit Kerala during Onam days. On this day, Athachamyam- a grand procession is also organized to mark the beginning of Carnival of Onam. The procession involves Elephant march, folk art presentations, music and dance etc. The idols of Mahabali and Vamana are installed at the entrance of each house in Kerala on this day.

Onam Pookkalam

Chithira- 2nd Day of Onam Festival

The main activity of this day is to make a second layer of the Pookalam with two different colors of flowers. Yellow flowers that were used on the first day are not used on second day. Mostly orange and creamy yellow flowers are used. People also start cleaning their homes and discussing about the preparation of the tenth day, Thiruvonam day. Shopping lists are prepared for gifts and other things needed to celebrate the final day of Onam. Everybody in the family gets involved in the discussions but children are especially excited as they get to demand new things on this day which gets enlisted for shopping.

Chodi- 3rd Day of Onam Festival

The Pookalam gets new flowers and its diameter increases and so does its designing pattern that gets elaborate. People begin shopping as per their lists prepared on second day. Onam is also an occasion of wearing new clothes and accessories and thus the market is flooded with such items. Gifts are also purchased for everyone- family members, relatives, friends as well as servants.

Vishakam- 4th Day of Onam Festival

Along with Pookalam getting bigger with variety of flowers and markets being flooded with people buying clothes and gifts, the fourth day of Onam witnesses the women of house engaging themselves in the pre-preparation of elaborate meal, Sadya, to be served on the tenth day, Thiruvonam. They make pickles and pappadams as well as other spices etc. needed to make specific dishes for Onasadya (en elaborate Onam feast including 26 or more vegetarian dishes). Vishakam or the fourth day of Onam also marks the beginning of many competitions such as Pookalam competitions etc.

Anizham- 5th Day of Onam Festival

This is the day of Aranmula Boat Race of Kerala which is famous all over the world. Tourists, both national and international, come to this now famous district of Kerala, Aranmula during Onam festival to witness this grand event of Snake boat race.

Aranmula Boat Race of Kerala

The Snake boat race, called Vallamkali, usually takes place on the fifth day of Onam. However, sometimes, it is also organized on fourth day. The snake boats or the Palliyodams, also called Chundan Vallam, can be seen assembled near the Parthasarathy Temple just before the race begins. This event of boat race also marks the anniversary of the installation of Sri Krishna Idol, the most important deity at the Parthasarathy temple. Each boat represents a village and it is a matter of pride for the people of that village who can be seen shouting and encouraging their respective boats. The race starts in the afternoon after the morning prayers and rituals are completed. Songs known as ‘Vanchipattu’ are sung during the race. It is an amazing show to witness around 40 boats with 120 people each, singing and rowing the boats in a rhythmic manner and each competing to win the race!

The Pookalams laid in the front courtyard of each house, on the other hand, get bigger with more flowers. Women become even more busy in preparing for the tenth day feast! There is an atmosphere of general excitement all across Kerala.

Thriketa- 6th Day of Onam Festival

This can be called the day of homecoming as all those who are away from their homes due to jobs and studies etc. come home to celebrate Onam with their family and friends. The joy and excitement of festive feel can be sensed in the air. The schools, colleges and offices begin to close down for Onam celebrations from this day onwards. The Pookalams in each house get bigger and prettier due to the addition of newer flowers and designs.

Moolam- 7th Day of Onam Festival

From this day onwards, one can see festivities all around. The Government’s official celebration of Onam festivities also start from this day with lighting seen on almost all the buildings of major cities of Kerala including Thiruvananthapuram City, Kochi city and Kozhikode. Fireworks displays are organized. Traditional Ona Sadya (special feast on the occasion of Onam) can be seen served at hotels, restaurants and homes though on smaller levels. The grand feast is to be on the tenth day of Onam. Temples in Kerala also start offering special Sadya from this day onwards.

Kaikotti Kali Dance

Various celebrations including traditional dances like Kaikotti Kali dance can be seen performed at various functions and even on streets. The whole state is gripped in the festive fever of Onam!

Pooradam- 8th Day of Onam Festival

This eighth day of Onam festival holds great significance as major rituals related to deity are associated with it. Devotees make clay idols in the shape of small pyramids. These idols are called Ma. As they are made on Pooradam day, these idols are also called Poorada Uttigal. This idol is decorated with flowers and smeared with rice-flour batter. Poorada Uttigal is installed at the center of Pookkalam which gets even more bigger and beautiful due to the new flowers and now complex design. People can be seen doing last minute shopping. They also visit friends and family to exchange greetings.

Poorada Uttigal

Uthradam- 9th Day of Onam Festival

This penultimate day or the eve of the final day of Onam is celebrated in a grand way too. In fact, it seems to be the beginning of the final celebration that culminates on the the tenth day or the Thiruvonam. Fresh vegetables and fruits are purchased for the grand feast Ona Sadya to be held next day. On this day, the tenants and dependents of Nayar Tarawads bring their farm produce or other gifts called Onakazhcha to Karanavar. Tarawad can be understood as the traditional large joint families that share a common kitchen and Karanavar is the eldest member of the Tarawad. Karanavar exchanges warm greetings with these people and offer them a sumptuous meal on Thiru Onam. Many villagers, especially village artisans too bring their handicrafts as gifts to the Karanavar and get graciously rewarded by him in return.

Uthradam or the 9th day of Onam is sometimes also referred to as ‘First Onam’ because it marks the day when it is believed that King Mahabali descends onto Kerala to bestow his blessing on the subjects of his erstwhile kingdom. Pookalams, by now get prettier and larger with addition of more flowers.

Thiruvonam- 10th Day of Onam Festival

Thiruvonam, the final day of Onam Celebrations witnesses Kerala reverberating with the chants of ‘Onaashmsakal’- Onam Greetings to everyone! People are happy and joyous as they believe that the Legendry King Mahabali called ‘Maveli’ visits Kerala on this day and gives blessings to all. People take early bath and wear new clothes. They offer special prayers at home and then in local temples. Biggest of all Pookalam lays in the courtyard of each house to welcome Maveli. Pyramid shaped clay mounds representing Lord Vishnu and Mahabali are prepared and placed in front of the grand Pookalam.

Onam Sadya

In the afternoon, Ona Sadya, the much awaited grand feast is organized. It consists of 26 or more vegetarian dishes served in single course on a banana leaf. The eldest member of each family gives gifts to all his family members and relatives, friends etc.

Cultural events are organized all around that include dances, games, shows and get together. Patassu (fire crackers) are also burnt making the environment even more vibrant. This day is also called ‘Second Onam’.

Onam Celebrations After Ten Days

Usually Onam celebrations end by the tenth day, the Thiruvonam day. The two days following Thiruvonam, however, are celebrated as Third and Fourth Onam.

Avvittom- Third Onam

The third Onam is called Avvittom and it marks the preparations for ascension of the King Mahabali. It is believed that after Onam, Maveli goes back to heavens. For this, the idol of Onathappan, which remains in the center of Pookalam during Onam celebration, is immersed in river or sea. The Pookkalam too is removed. On this day, the famous Pulikali (Lion masked dance) is held in the city of Thrissur where men dressed as lions and tigers parade through the city in large numbers.

Pulikali Dance

Chatayam- Fourth Onam

On this fourth Onam, called Chatayam, official government celebrations also end. The culmination of Onam festival is marked by mega dance festival in the capital city of Kerala, Thiruvananthapuram on this day.

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