Ten days of holidays; Childhood memories of Onam festival underlines the continuous holidays marked in calendar. Whole of Kerala in India adorns a festive mood on these ten days. After the heavy monsoon season, the nature looks fresh and flower-full. With diverse celebrations and activities, we have enough to enrich our memories.
Onam is the commemoration of the homecoming of demon King Mahabali. The festival is celebrated in the month of Chingam; the first month in the Malayalam calendar. The ten days-long festival usually falls between the months of August-September. This year Chingam 1 was on 17th of August; and the first day of Onam is today, 22nd. After ten days, on 31st is the main Onam day called Thiruvonam. Onam is the harvesting festival of people of Kerala, a state in southern India. From children to adults, irrespective of religion or social status, everyone welcomes the festive season.
As kids, all in Kerala study about the mythology behind Onam festival even from school days. The spirit of Onam is instilled in every person from Kerala from their childhood. The mythical-demon king Mahabali used to rule Kerala Kingdome. Mahabali was a demon. Yet he was generous and kind-hearted and loved his citizens. His popularity rose day by day. Yet, the gods were not happy with the developments. They sought help and a solution from Lord Vishnu who had to address the issue.
Lord Vishnu transformed into a poor dwarf Brahmin called Vamana. Knowing well the generosity of Mahabali; Vamana went to him seeking three wishes. He asked for three feet of land which Mahabali promised to give. After his assurance, Vamana grew large in size that he covered the earth and sky in two feet. To fulfil the promise, Mahabali should give one more feet.
Being a just king, Mahabali was true to his promise. He requested Vamana to place the third step on his head. On the next action, he was pushed down to the underworld. Seeing the righteousness, Lord Vishnu was pleased with Mahabali. The Lord granted him the boon of visiting his people of Kerala on Chingam every year. The return of their king is being celebrated by the people of Kerala as Onam festival every year.
The festivity lasts for ten days. The ten days are Atham, Chithira, Chodi, Vishakam, Anizham, Thriketa, Moolam, Pooradam, Uthradom and Thiruvonam. Even the nature decks up beautifully to embrace the season. These are exciting days for the kids. People make flower carpet in front of their house to welcome Mahabali. From gathering flowers to making carpets to playing different traditional games and enjoying good food, the season is a bliss.
Flower Carpet or Pookkalam
It is the major attraction of the Onam festival. The flowers are used to make the carpet in around one’s house. With each passing day, the size and charm of Pookkalam escalates. The task keeps the children merrily engaged in the morning hours for ten days. Mostly, children go around collecting flowers from gardens and fields to arrange them artistically. In most offices and companies Pookkalam competitions are held. Recent years have seen a drastic shortage of flowers; most people resort to shops to purchase them.
It is a structure made of clay that represents King Mahabali. The four-faced pyramids like structure is placed alongside of Pookkalam. The traditional families perform special prayers to welcome the homecoming of Emperor Mahabali.
Sports and Games
A wide range of games are played throughout these ten days. Being the holiday season, all the children remain free. Clubs and organizations coordinate traditional games like boat races, Onappottan, Puli Kali, Kaikottikkali, tug of war, etc.
Folk Dance forms create a fascinating sight for the spectators. Women dressed in special attires participate in dance forms like Kaikottikali, Thumbi Thullal and Thiruvthira Kali.
The menfolk perform a special Dance form Pulikali (Tiger Dance); painting their body resembling tigers. The other forms of games seen as part of the festival are Kummattikali (Mask Dance) and Onathallu (Martial Arts).
Boat race is a very popular event that attracts tourists in thousands on this season. Specially decorated boats participate in the races.
Kite-flying and Uriyadi are popular among youngsters in many parts of Kerala on the Onam holidays.
There are many other traditional games played as part of Onam celebration. Sadly, as the years pass by, many of these traditions are forgotten.
Onam festival comes with the delight of new dresses too. Traditional attire of Onam for women are skirt or saree in white colour; embroidered with golden border. As for men, they have similar coloured dhoti. Modern times have brought in several changes. Yet the colour combinations are retained.
The food prepared on the final day of Onam is a special banquet. With over two dozens of items served on a plantain leaf is a feast for the eyes and stomach. All the ingredients in the menu are vegetarian items. I will elaborate more on the mouthwatering menu of the Onam in the second episode of the article.
The season welcomes a good number of tourists yearly from other parts of the country and abroad to Kerala. The Pookkalams, boat race, food and Thiruvthira are major attractions that amaze tourists. Sadly, the past two years and the year 2020 have been quite contrary. Extreme weather conditions and Covid-19 have caused the festive mood to take back seat in most part of the state.
The best part is that the external celebrations happen on a low scale. The spirit of Onam is ever very high. The next ten days will be celebrated with all the fervour befitting to the festival.
A Travel enthusiast and Foodie, craving to explore the intricate beauty of nature and its gift of delectable treats. Pens down his thoughts and experiences to present a delightful journey for his readers