ONAM FESTIVAL, A COMPLETE GUIDE

ONAM FESTIVAL

After months of heavy rainfall when the monsoon bids adieu leaving the sky blue, fields green and brooks flooded with water, the land of God’s own country is marked with a new exhilaration, enthusiasm, and vigor with the arrival of Onam Festival.

Though you’re not privileged enough to be born in God’s own country, Onam Festival would certainly not be an unheard carnival for you. Is it? Then, you need to get low-down on it. Okay, get ready to feel the excitement in the air, high-spirit of togetherness in the soil, and echoing glory of revelry in the sky.

Let’s embark on fascinating tales and the rip-roaring spree of Onam festival India. We promise, it’s going to be exciting and you’ll be back full of beans after Onam festival.

WHAT IS ONAM FESTIVAL?

 

Onam is the biggest and most significant Hindu cultural festival of Kerala. However, you can find the marks of Onam festival across India and even certain parts of the world. The vibrant festival is originally celebrated by Malayali community as a harvest festival.

Don’t assume it just a festival. In fact, it is the biggest cultural event where people of all ages from all races break the ethnic boundaries and come together to celebrate the homecoming of their legendary King Mahabali.

Have you ever felt an unseen relationship between God and human? Well, witness it here in Kerala. Onam festival perfectly portrays the high spirit and unfaltering faith of people for their God.

WHAT IS THE MEANING OF ONAM?

Before moving on, let’s know the Onam festival meaning. Every festival holds a particular reason behind its name and so is with Onam festival Kerala. What do you think what would be the meaning of this word ‘Onam’ and which language it is taken from? Malayali? Well, let us be honest. You hit in the right direction but missed the bullseye.

The word ‘Onam’ is actually believed to have been derived from Sanskrit word ‘Shravanam’. Shravanam, also known as Thiruvonam, is one the 27 Nakshatras in Hindu mythology. In south India, everything associated with Lord Vishnu is often addressed with word ‘Thiru’. This is where the word ‘Onam’ came on the scene because this festival is all about Lord Vishnu.

ONAM FESTIVAL HISTORY AND SIGNIFICANCE

 

Are you a history buff? Yes? Then, the fascinating history of the Onam festival is going to take your breath away with amusement. If history is not your thing, please hold your yawns because this one is going to be intriguing. Believe us! Take yourself with this legendary Onam festival story and delve deeper into the history.

The beauty of Indian festivals is that each of them is entwined with a mystical saga narrating the time period of an ancient Vedic era. The same goes for the Onam festival. It spins the tale of King Mahabali dating back to the time when Kerala was ruled by him. He was known to be a kind-heart, virtuous, and the greatest king in the history of Kerala. Learn further all in details about King Mahabali.

WHO WAS KING MAHABALI?

According to legend, Mahabali was a demon king and a fervent devotee of Lord Vishnu. He was so mighty that he is said to have even conquered the Gods.

Yes, even gods. You know what happened next? Well, sit tight. We’ll move on slowly. After their defeat, all gods sought help from almighty Lord Vishnu. On their request, Lord Vishnu disguised himself as a dwarf Brahmin and came for alms in his kingdom. Lord Vishnu asked just three steps of lands from the king and he said ‘yes’ even without a second thought. You know, how benevolent kings used to be in the days of yore.

Don’t go away. The story is not over yet. Here comes the divine power into the play. Lord Vishnu covered the entire earth and heaven in his first two steps and asked the king to offer something for the third one.

Just look at his devotion and generosity, he offered himself for the third step. Lord trampled down him to hell (Pataal) in his third step. Seeing that, Lord Vishnu got pleased by his nobility and granted him a boon to visit his kingdom once in a year.

Guess what, the 10th day of Onam festival ‘Thiruvonam’ is that auspicious day of the year when King Mahabali is believed to visit his kingdom. Got a thrill to catch a sight of celestial king Mahabali? Then, what is holding you? Hit the trail to Kerala.

WHY DO WE CELEBRATE ONAM FESTIVAL?

Before getting into this question, tell us one thing. Why do you celebrate Diwali or why do you celebrate Holi or say any other festival that you celebrate with utmost gaiety? Maybe there is a particular significance or maybe to commemorate a specific event. Right? Well, Onam festival is a no an exception.

It has its own glorifying history to proclaim its significance. As said above, Onam festival is celebrated to mark the homecoming of the spirit of King Mahabali. The cultural festival is the bear testimony to the unyielding relationship between human and god. During Onam festival, the ardor and enthusiasm of people for King Mahabali manifest the extreme form of devotion.

WHEN ONAM FESTIVAL TAKES PLACE?

 

After reading all this about Onam festival, you must be burning with curiosity to know the time period when this splendid festival takes place? Yes? Okay, hold your breath. We won’t let you go without complete information.

If you think not to get out of your city just after monsoon months, you can miss the crazing enthusiasm of Onam festival because it comes into being during August or September.

It has nothing to do with standard calendar and there is not a fixed date for this majestic festival either. It is actually observed in the month of Chingam in Malayalam calendar. Malayalam New Year starts with the month Chingam.

So, you need to check the Onam festival date before heading to participate in it. Like, in 2018, Onam festival started from 15th August but it will set in motion from 1st September in 2019.

HOW MANY DAYS ONAM FESTIVAL IS CELEBRATED?

Onam is a grand festival and it is celebrated in a grand manner. The festival goes on for 10 days. First and last days are the most important ones. It commences on the day called as Atham with tremendous verve and culminates on 10th day known as ‘Thiruvonam’ with utmost pomp.

Remember Navratri festival that is celebrated for 9 days? However, Navratri is different form Onam festival. In Navratri, same activity continues for 9 days but in Onam festival, the town is painted in different colors each day.

The festival lasts for 10 days and each day is celebrated in an exceptional way for its unique reason. If you’re an outsider, you need to learn about 10 days of Onam festival in details. Let’s get the feet in the grandeur of Onam festival.

DAY: ATHAM

The grand Onam festival gets underway on this auspicious day. It is the day when the spark of carnival comes alive in Kerala. The preparations to welcome the mythical King Mahabali begin with Atham. It is the day when the mystic aura of exultation starts taking hold of entire Kerala.

People begin this auspicious day with early morning bath followed by a visit to the temples. After that, they have breakfast consisting of steamed bananas and fried Papads. Interestingly, their breakfast remains the same throughout 10 days of Onam.

People wear traditional Onam festival dresses and perform custom rituals. Don’t miss to capture this endearing sight in your camera.

The major event ‘Atham’ is the beginning Pookalam. You know what this Pookalam is? Well, it is a mark to welcome King Mahabali. People decorate their house, especially the entrance areas, with yellow floral designs which are called Pookalam.

Pookalam is always designed in 10 rings with yellow color. These 10 rings represent 10 Gods of Hinduism. As Onam festival gets on, the size of Pookalam grows too. People add new designs on it each day till Thiruvonam. The statue of Lord Vishnu and king Mahabali is also installed in every house.

If you have got the flair of drawing Rangolis, why not try a hand in this mega event. Unleash your creativity and spurt out your artistry from the confines of your mind. If you can’t go Kerala, make it at your door front. It looks really breathtaking. Believe us!

2 DAY: CHITHIRA

The second day of the Onam festival is known as Chithira. People start the day with their usual prayers and breakfast. Though there is no marked ritual for the day, people are filled with the same rapture. Usually, the further designing of Pookalam keeps the girls busy on Chithira.

Women start sprucing up their home. After all, they have to welcome their beloved king Mahabali. And what do men and kids do? Well, they have got to do something as well. The shopping list is usually prepared on Chithira because the upcoming days keep the people full of activity and they don’t get enough time to plan the things.

In a word, Chithira is the day of fulfillment of everyone’s long pending demands in the family.

3 DAY: CHODHI

Get ready to greet the third day of Onam festival called Chodhi. It is the favorite day for the kids. You know why? Well, because it is the day to hold your shopping list on your hand and go out to fill your shopping bags.

On Chodhi, you’ll find the markets bursting at the seams. On this day, Onam festival gifts are bought for everyone including kids, oldies, and servants. If you’re on Kerala during Onam festival, don’t miss a chance to go on a shopping spree on Chodhi. The vibrant market filled with traditional things will surely strike you with awe. Don’t hold your hands back on spending money.

Other than shopping, people pour out the vibrancy of markets and creativity of their mind further in Pookalam.

4 DAY: VISAKAM

The lesser days are left for Thiruvonam, the more people get immersed in the dripping ocean of ecstasy. The fourth day begins with a new joy. People offer their prayers and seek the sacred blessings.

Furthermore, they add refreshing and enchanting designs to Pookalam. Just imagine, how stunning this Pookalam has got by now. The fresh flower petals of Pookalam create a scented aura all around.

Speaking on activity front, shopping is done. Now, it’s time to gear up for the grand celebration. Visakam is marked with the preparation of thundering events and activities. After Visakam, people have a lot on their plate. They hardly talk about anything else other than Onam festival.

5 DAY: ANIZHAM

The big day has arrived. With this day, the brooks of ground-breaking celebration turn into the ocean and infuse the people with its unfathomable jubilation.

Various fun-filled activities take place on Anizham. Starting from the further decoration of Pookalam, the list of buoyant activities goes endlessly on this day.

Brace yourself to treat your eyes with the plenty of never-before-seen activities. These energetic and roaring events will surely impart an invigorating vim in you. A word to wise, keep your camera all charged up because these events won’t let you put it down even for a second.

Among all, the unrivaled ‘Snake Boat Race’ is the major catchment of eyes. This splendid event also known as ‘Vallamkali’ happens on the riverside of Pamba. You can also call it Onam boat festival.

Forget about the thrill of racing. Right before that, the eye-catching ornamentation of boats which are oared majestically will spellbind you. If somehow you manage to take your eyes off the boats, the ravishing traditional looks of participants in Dhoti and Turban will tug you in an unfathomable ocean of Indian culture.

Next, it’s time to tickle your bones with the thrill of splendid Snake boat racing. You might have seen this event in films. Now, behold it in front of your eyes with other multitudes of onlookers.

6 DAY: THRIKKETTA

After a brisk day, you can take a load off on Thrikketta as there is no particular activity for the day. However, the echoing celebration of Onam festival continues to go through the roof. It calls people back to their home who are staying away from their families.

Threketa is usually a day reserved for the family gathering. People meet their dear ones, relatives and friends, exchange the gifts and rejoice the day together. The innumerable lip-smacking dishes double up the delectation of festivity. The startling designs of Pookalam made with gentle flower petals increase the glory of Thrikketta to the extreme.

7 DAY: MOOLAM

By the 7th day, every nook and cranny of Kerala is tented with the resplendent colors of revelry. The state is decorated as a bride. Markets are crammed with the crowd and people find themselves jostling. Actually, this is the last day to buy anything if you had forgotten that on Chodhi. After this, the exhilaration of the Onam Festival will envelop everything under its cap.

The cultural events such as song & dance start being performed on several places from this day. People deck up their houses with vivid festoons. Furthermore, Pookalam in a new and eye-catching design completes the grandeur of 7th day. The Onam festival celebration comes in its full swing with this day.

Let your hair down and imbibe the fervor of festivities. To make your day full of enthusiasm, head over to Cheruthuruthy where people enact the real scenes from legendary epics and fairytales. Believe us! It’s a breath-taking event.

8 DAY: POORADAM

The 8th day of Onam festival is known as ‘Pooradam’ which holds an important significance in this grand festival. On this big day, a clay statue of king Mahabali or Vaman in pyramid shape is installed in every house. From this day onwards, this beautiful statue is called Onathappan.

People put the statue in the center of Pookalam and further decorate it. In fact, Onam festival decoration comes at full throttle with this day. Like every day, the size of Pookalam gets bigger and intricate. By this time, people are full of life and all set to greet the big day.

You too charge your batteries because the next two days are going to be frolicsome.

9 DAY: UTHRADAM

The Onam eve is already here. Now, you’re going to witness the sublime splendor of Onam festival at Kerala. People put the finishing touch to the decoration and the grand carnival is arranged. The clay-made additional statues are taken around the houses. People adorn them and worship as per the rituals.

Following that, the entire family dines out together. According to the legend, this is the day when king Mahabali arrives in his erstwhile kingdom. On Uthradam, as long as your eyes will reach, you’ll see only and the only jubilation. This is the day when people throw themselves completely into Onam festival.

Don’t be surprised if you see the garnished swings slung on the tree branches because it is pretty common during Onam Festival.

10 DAY: THIRUVONAM OR ONAM

Finally, the day has arrived for that people have been waiting for long one year. Now, the gala carnival comes full-fledged on the ground. The state reverberates with the resonant chants of ‘Onashamsakal’ creating a spellbinding aura.

Don’t be flabbergasted if somebody exchanges the warm wishes of Onam with you because, on this big day, people break all boundaries of caste and creed and get completely immersed in the deep ocean of joy.

The gala day begins with the early morning bath followed by offering a special prayer at home and then a visit to the local temple. People are all dressed up in new clothes and everybody follows Onam festival rituals. Later on, Pookalam is designed at its best. Then, the clay statues of king Mahabali and Vamana are placed in front of Pookalam.

The day comes to its all glory when the grand feast of Onam known as ‘Onam Sadya’ calls the people on the table with its enticing fragrance.

Speaking on activity front, cultural dances, shows, and game competitions continue to add verve to the celebration. As the dusk enters gradually, the roaring festivity of Onam festival touches the sky. Finally, the 10-days-long festival culminates in a grandiose way.

ONAM FESTIVAL EVENTS

The 10 days of Onam festival are full of rituals, traditions, events, and of course merriment. Here, let’s talk about the prominent Onam festival activities that fill different shades of vibrancy in the spectrum of Kerala and make Onam a special festival.

TRIPUNITHURA ATHACHAMAYAM

We know, you might find it hard to pronounce the name of this mega event of Onam festival. Okay, leave the name and just talk about its game. Tripunithura Athachamayam actually marks the beginnings of the Onam festival in a grand way.

From the traditional Onam festival dance to the varied art forms, the royal streets of Tripunithura draw a vivacious rainbow of Indian culture. Here, treat your eyes with a massive street parade. Gussied up in customary Onam festival dresses, people are all set to leave you awestruck.

To add more to your amusement, the royal elephants decked in the gold walk down on the streets along with humans.

SNAKE BOAT RACE: VALLAMKALI

Don’t miss this one. Snake Boat Race is the biggest and the most awaited event of Onam festival. Also known as Vallamkali, Onam festival boat race is held on the banks of Pampa River in an impressive procession.

You can see hundreds of miraculously decorated boats oared exceptionally on the rhythms of boat songs. Further, the rumbling sounds of drum allied with hypnotic music amplify the glory of this event.

Try to reach there before scheduled time else you’ll end up jostling among the throng of spectators.

GRAND TIGER DANCE: PULIKALI

 

Another spectacular Onam festival event that deserves a special mention on this list! As you read, it’s a tiger dance event that will surely rush the blood in your nerves with the thrill. Got panic? Scared of tigers? Wait, don’t cancel your plans.

Actually, tigers don’t dance here. Instead, people get dressed and painted themselves as the tiger and then dance to beats of the drum. Isn’t it a worth capturing moment? We’re sure you have never seen such a fascinating event before.

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OTHER GAMES

It’s time to indulge a bit in funny, amusing, and entertaining Onam festival games. Yes, the revelry of Onam festival is not only within the bounds of mega-events and unnumbered of rituals but the festival is grand in every way. It has its own humorous games too.

In fact, these little games complete the elation of grand festivity. Even if you’re not fond of the games, they will urge you to come on the ground. There are different types of indoor as well as outdoor games. Here, breaking a sweat won’t be a bad idea. What do you say? Let some energy ooze and jollity pervade you.

Want the names of the games? Okay, Onakalikal, Ayyankali, Attakalam, Ambeyyal, and Kutu Kutu are the prominent ones among others.

ONAM FESTIVAL RECIPES

Can you name out a single Indian festival that is celebrated without special dishes? We guess there is none. From Diwali to Holi, each festival is marked with a particular traditional cuisine. In fact, these special dishes hold their own significance for every festival.

Speaking of Onam festival food recipes, the list of instructions goes as extensive as the celebration of the festival itself. There are more than 50 dishes that are prepared during the Onam festival. Every day, the house smells with a new ambrosial flavor. People prepare as many as they can. However, there has to be at least 11-13 dishes on the occasion of ‘Onam Sadya’.

The popular Onam festival food names include Avial, Sambhar, Injithair, Ada Pradhaman, Appam, Koottu Curry, Kalan, Idli, Dosas, Coconut Chutney, Kheer, Olan, and Thoran to name a few.

When you’re on Kerala especially during Onam festival, don’t forget to treat yourself to these appetizing dishes. Ranging from sour to sultry, sweet to bitter and pungent to astringent, the list of flavored dishes of Onam festival goes without limit.

ONAM FESTIVAL FACTS

We have come so far but there are still some interesting facts about Onam festival that need to be got the low-down. After all, it is a 10-day-long festival. It has a lot more eye-opener things to strike you with the wonder. So, are you ready? Believe us you’ll be completely bowled over by the incredible Onam festival facts.

  • Though Onam is majorly celebrated by Malayalee people, it is not restricted to the confines of a particular religion. Ideally, it is a secular festival celebrated by people of all beliefs and races.
  • One of the most significant Onam festival traditions is to wear newly bought clothes. This ritual is a called ‘Onakkodi’. This one is interesting. Isn’t it?
  • To give it a complete festive look, people wear only traditional Onam festival clothes. During Onam, you’ll see all the women dressed in white Sari with gold border. They look even more gleaming than gold in this traditional dress. Hold your heartstrings else you might fall for the one.
  • Now, take your eyes off the beautiful ladies and just look at the men elegantly dressed up in white Kurta and Mundu. You know what a Mundhu is? Well, Mundhu is a kind of Lungi in white color with gold border. It is considered the Onam festival traditional dress for men.
  • To complete their look, people put a white Tilak on their forehead.
  • Onam festival celebration is incomplete without Onasadya which includes a number of dishes. Traditionally, it is served on a banana leaf. You eat on plates daily. Just once have a pleasure of eating on a banana leaf.
  • The entertaining games and stimulating dance & song performances complete the festivity of Onam festival.
  • Gifts are an integral part of Onam festival. People exchange gifts with heartfelt wishes.
  • The spirit of King Mahabali is believed to visit every household.

ONAM FESTIVAL 2019 CALENDAR

2018 has come to an end. Onam festival 2018 has taken place. If you have missed the chance to witness the grandeur of Onam festival this year, gear up for Onam 2019. Like every year, Thiruvonam 2019 will also be celebrated in a grand manner with full of enthusiasm and gaiety.

So, this time, don’t miss the boat and plan your trip ahead of time. Need to know all about Onam festival 2019 celebrations in Kerala? Okay, put your mind at ease and here have a look at the Onam festival details 2019.

THIRU ONAM 2019 DATE

Unlike 2018, Onam festival in 2019 will take place in September. 1st September will mark the beginning of Onam festival 2019 at Trivandrum, the capital of Kerala. The grand celebration will continue for 10 days culminating on 10th September.

So, these are the dates for Onam festival 2019. A long 10 months of time is still to go for this groundbreaking festival. Start planning your trip from now so that you don’t have to pack your bags at a rate of knots in the neck of time.

ONAM FESTIVAL 2019 ACTIVITIES

Onam festival is celebrated with the same events, traditions, rituals, and the same amount of enthusiasm every year. The celebration can be bigger and louder than the previous year but there is no chance of being duller. From cultural events to customary rituals and from elaborate feast to entertaining games, Onam celebration is touching new heights each year.

Now, Onam festival has taken such a grand form that several competitions of different events are held daily in Kerala during these 10 days. However, those are for the local people. As a traveler, you should focus on Onam festival specialties.

In 2019, major Onam festival activities will be Snake boat race, Pookalam, grand tiger dance, and elephant procession. Among all, Snake boat race is the most important and spectacular one. Onam festival 2019 boat race will be held on 5th September. So, gear yourself up for one of the most thrilling mega events of Onam festival.

Q&A ABOUT ONAM FESTIVAL

Don’t go away. The festive aura of Onam is not over yet. Though Onam festival is over, you still need to learn some odds and ends of this grand festival. You also might have some questions about Onam festival rumbling on your head. Is it so? Okay, let them come out and meet their answers.

What is Chingam?
Remember, you have read this word above in the text. Okay, let us remind you. Chingam is actually a Malayalam month which marks the commencement of Onam festival. It is also the first month of the Malayalam calendar.

Which religion celebrates Onam festival?
Onam is a secular festival celebrated across the world. It is primarily a festival of Malayali community but people from all faiths and castes come together to celebrate this festival. The Onam national festival of Kerala binds the people in unity beyond all religions.

Where is Onam celebrated?
You can find the traces of Onam celebration around the world. However, it is celebrated in its full splendor in Kerala only. Onam festival celebration in Kerala can even stop the revolving sticks of the clock. Apart from Kerala, Onam festival is celebrated in certain other parts of India too.

Is Onam a harvest festival?
Yes, Onam is considered as the most significant harvest festival of Kerala. Malayalis celebrates 3 harvest festivals namely Pongal, Vishu, and Onam. Onam festival is the biggest one.

Who is Onathappan?
There would have been no Onam festival without Onathappan. Onathappan is actually a clay-made and pyramid-styled statue which is installed in every household during Onam festival. For some people, it symbolizes Lord Vamana while for others, it refers to King Mahabali.
After the Onam festival, this statue is eventually immersed. Onathappan is also sometimes tagged as ‘Thrikkakara Appan’.

Is Onam a religious festival?
Well, you can call it a religious festival given the fact that various religious rituals are performed during 10 days of Onam festival. It is a harvest festival, though.

Why is Onam a harvest festival?
Onam is observed as a harvest festival because it falls just after monsoon months when paddocks are replete with the lush crops. Onam festival actually marks the time to reap the harvest.

Who is considered Onam festival legend?
King Mahabali is considered the legend of Onam festival.

Who is regarded as the Onam festival god?
Lord Vamana (an incarnation of Lord Vishnu) is considered to be the presiding Onam festival god.

What is the meaning of Pookalam?

 

Pookalam is the essence of the Onam festival. It is combined with two Malayali words Poo and Kalam. Poo means ‘flower’ and Kalam means ‘artwork’. During the Onam festival, you’ll find the phenomenal creative arts of people at every door front in the form of Rangoli.

Be it a house or temple, school or office, Rangoli is drawn everywhere. This Onam festival flower Rangoli is called Pookalam.

Pookalam is traditionally designed with yellow flowers. You can use other colors of flower too but the yellow flower has to be there. Yellow flowers are considered the most auspicious Onam festival flowers.

Pookalam marks the beginning of Onam festival. It also signifies that people are ready to welcome King Mahabali in their house.

What is Onam Sadya?

The celebration of Onam festival would be drab without Onam Sadya. In fact, it is the heart and soul of the Onam festival. But, what actually this Onam Sadya is? Well, it is a traditional grand feast comprising of 26 lip-smacking dishes that are prepared and served on the mid-noon of Onam.

Unlike daily meals, Onam Sadya is served on a banana leaf and all family members sit on the ground in a row.

Interestingly, all dishes are vegetarian. This is the day when Malayalis give thumbs down to their love for greasy meat.

CONCLUSION OF ONAM FESTIVAL

Onam festival draws an eye-catching canvas of Kerala in different shades dotted with multi-colored drums, trumpets, dances, art, music, rituals, and many more. Be a part of this motley canvas and imbue yourself with a new vigor and transcendent spirituality.


An engineer by education and writer by choice. She is a globetrotter with a pure desi heart. Her notion spree runs faster than a jet when she entangles herself with the thread of any culture. Her zeal for writing originates from her love for reading and trust us! She is a complete Potterhead.


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