30 Aug 2022

Onam: The Festival Of Kerala

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Onam is a cultural festival celebrated by the Malayali community across the world. The spirit of this festival is universal. But this is specially the time of the year Kerala is exhilarated with trumpets, drums, decorations, music, boat races and much more. Whether you’re a Malayali or not, the spirit of Onam is Universal. 

The Onam festival overlaps with the months August & September on the Gregorian calendar, falling on the month of Chingam in the Malayalam calendar. This year Onam will begin on Tuesday, August 30 2022 and end on Thursday, September 8, 2022.

Traditional Kerala Dance from in parade

History of Onam

The festival of Onam is a celebration of Mahabali’s visit to his land. As per Hindu mythology, Mahabali, in whose honour the festival of Onam is celebrated, was the grandson of Brahmin sage Prahlada and had taken over the three worlds by defeating the Gods/Devas. In Vaishnavism, the Devas approached Lord Vishnu to help them in the battle against Mahabali, Vishnu refused considering Mahabali being a good ruler and his devotee. Mahabali performed a Yajna after his victory of the three worlds over the gods and had to grant anyone any request. Lord Vishnu took this opportunity to test his devotee, Mahabali and approached him in the avatar of a dwarf boy called Vamana. 

Mahabali offered everything he could to the boy but Vamana refused. He said and believed that one must not seek more than one’s needs and all he needed was three paces. As much as this wish surprised the king, he granted it. Vamana then grew and covered the land and water with one foot, sky with another and now for his third foot, Mahabali offered himself. Vamana then trampled Mahabali down to Pathala (hell) but pleased by his devotion offered him a boon to visit his land every year. And from there the revisit of Mahabali marks the beautiful and joyous festival of Onam. 

Significance of Onam Traditions 

Onam is a harvest festival. It reminds us all of the importance of food, agriculture, and farmers’ hard work. Onam significantly brings back Keralites to their home and spreads the message of unity and prosperity across the world.

Moreover, the spirit of the Onam festival holds more cultural values than religious. As both the Hindu and non-Hindu communities join hands, leaving their caste and religion behind to celebrate the Onam with great enthusiasm. 

Christians celebrate Onam in their own way. They lighten Nilavilakku, followed by an arati and Pushparati, i.e., waving flowers over the Bible. Thereafter, they have a meal together with their Hindu friends. The gala eliminates all the religious disparities and propagates communion of brothers and sisters irrespective of faith and beliefs. 

Onam is a 10 day celebration and below we have listed the significance and energy for each day from the start to the end of the festival: 

Day 1: Atham, Onam Festival Begins

On the first day of Onam, Keralites begin the creation of Pookalam. They start the festivities with a morning bath and perform prayers. On Atham day, they design simple Pookalam which is small in shape and called Athapoo. They make it by using yellow flower petals to welcome the king. After that, each day of the festival by adding more designs to Athapoo.  

Day 2: Chithira, Cleaning Spaces

On Chithira, the second day of the festival, House cleaning begins. Thereafter, two more layers of orange and yellow flowers are added to the Pookkalam. Besides the Pookalam additions, earthen mounds are also placed in the courtyards of homes and public spaces for the representation of King Mahabali. 

Day 3: Chodhi, Festival Shopping

Going by the tradition, on Chodhi, another layer of flower design is applied to the Pookalam. On the third day as the cleaning of self and homes is done, Keralites start to shop for new clothes and jewellery. The markets of Kerala flood with people especially during Chodhi. To celebrate the spirit of Onam, people usually buy traditional dresses like Kasavu Sari, Mundu, and Pattu Pavadai.  

Day 4: Vishakam, Feast Preparations

Vishakam, the day that embarks  the preparation of the principal festive feast. Onam Sadhya comprises 11 to 13 traditional vegetarian dishes, the serving of which is on a banana leaf. The bigger families sometimes go up to 30 dishes to celebrate the festival. 

Day 5: Anizham, The Boat Race & Parade

On Anizham, a traditional snake boat race is organised which is called Vallamkali and takes place on the sacred Pampa River. It also involves a grand parade as the Keralites come to watch the races from all across Kerala and cheer for their respective teams. The Aranmula Uthrattathi Boat Race and Nehru Trophy Boat Race are also held on Onam.

Day 6: Thriketta, Homecoming & Gifts

Thriketta, that is, on the sixth day of the festival, Onam flowers are added to Pookalam. People exchange gifts with their loved ones and most people who have migrated to other cities, states, or counties return to visit their ancestral homes to this date.  

Day 7: Moolam, The Onasadya Feast

On Moolam, Hindu temples now start serving the Onasadya which is a religious vegan meal. Keralan families also make a miniature version of the main meal called Sadhya. On this day, people visit each other’s homes to greet, bless and celebrate the joyousness of the festival. The traditional dance performances such as the Puli Kali takes place on Moolam.

Day 8: Pooradam, Mahabali & Vamana

On the eighth day of Onam, Pooradam, people purchase miniatures of Mahabali and They bring them home as a symbol of welcoming the Onam King and Vamana into their homes. They place these miniature statues in the centre of the Pookalam design. Once you place the statue of Mahabali on the Pookalam, people now need to call the Onam king – Onathappan.

Day 9: Uthradam, Sadhya Feast For The King

Uthradam, this is the peak day of celebration of Onam. Legends believe that King Mahabali reaches Kerala on this day. People shop for fresh vegetables for the Sadhya feast and clean the houses to ensure all the preparation for the Sadhya feast for the king is ready.

Day 10: Thiruvonam, The Final Onam Festival Day

Thiruvonam, the final day of the celebrations. On this day, the Pokallam is added with rice flour batter as a traditional welcome sign for the king. People on this evening celebrate the Onam with bright lights and fireworks and participate in folk music and dance. People also denote things to the needy on the final day of Onam celebrations. 

An Overview of the Onam festival

Onam festival celebrates symbolises and honours the many elements of Kerala’s traditions and culture. It signals the end of the monsoons, this annual ‘harvest festival’ unites the people of Kerala with a ten-day celebration during ‘Chingam’ that is, the first month of the Malayalam calendar. This is the best time to visit South India, with the landscape lush green after the rains, the lakes, lagoons and backwaters flowing beautifully and the houses and streets immersed in the decor and spirit of the Onam festival. 

We at Milkbasket understand that not everyone can celebrate the festivities in Kerala itself. Hence we bring you your curated store with 10 days worth of all your pooja needs at your one stop delivery app. Now order everything you need from Fresh Flowers to groceries for Sadhya feast from your daily grocery delivery app! We wish you a very Happy Onam!

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