celebrate this festival in memory of the golden era of King Mahabali
whose spirit is said to visit the state at the time of Onam. People put
flower mats in front of their houses, to welcome the King, called ATHA
POOVE. Keralites in any part of the world rush back to their native land
to celebrate Onam. It is an occasion for family gatherings. It is also a
perfect symbol of communal harmony since all communities get together
and celebrate this truly national festival. On the Thiruvonam day every
one bathes and offers worship in temples early in the morning. Then the
gayest new garments are put on. Presents are distributed to the younger
members of the family. Then follows the onam feast of delicious food
served on plantain leaves. Members of families, staying far away from
native places make it a point to visit their ancestral homes to
celebrate the festival in the company of the their kith and kin.
Keralites celebrate Onam by organising community feast, cultural
Stories behind Onam
There are a number of legends behind Onam, One of the most famous
legend is long time ago, Kerala was ruled by the daemon king,
Mahabali. Mahabali was an efficient and popular ruler.
The king of the
Daityas or Asuras, (literally, greatly
strong) had become powerful with the force of his austerities and he
was showing up the gods in a very poor light indeed..
He was loved by all. His kingdom stretched the earth, the
patalam or the underground, and was threatening the skies. The
ruler of the Heaven, Lord Indra got apprehensive of Mahabali's
popularity and might, and approached Lord Vishnu for help and
advice. Vishnu came to this mortal world as a (Vamana) Brahmin (this
is one of the avatars of Lord Vishnu) and went to Mahabali and asked
for 3 steps of land. Mahabali readily agreed.
the dwarf Vamana
suddenly assumed a cosmic galaxy spanning size and covered the
universe in two paces.
With the first step,
Vamana spanned the entire earth, with the next the underground, and
there was nowhere to put his third step. Mahabali being true to his
word, asked Vamana to keep the third foot on his head, who pushed
Mahabali down into patalam. Mahabali requested Vamana to
grant him a boon to come and visit his homeland, Kerala at least
once a year, and as the legend goes, he comes to visit his people
and his land during Onam.
leged, once many years ago, a boat named Palliodam floated down the
river laden with food.
of sudden on a turning in the river, the oarsmen tried to move it
but were unsuccessful. The spiritual head, Bhattathiripad, believing
that it was a bad omen climbed up the riverbank. He saw a hut where
a dim light was glowing. When he went towards it he found a poor
widow weeping, a few children were sleeping around the kitchen
floor. She told the Nambudiri that she had no food and that her
children had gone to sleep hungry. The Nambudiri brought out food
from the boat and gave it to the poor family. Since then it has
become a tradition amongst the Nambudiris to feed one poor person
before the Onam feast.
Another legend that long time ago about 10 kilometers up the river
Pampa from Aranmulla, the head of the Katoor Mana, a Nambudiri
offered prayers and had a bath and waited to feed a poor man. After
a long wait he began to pray to Lord Krishna. When he opened his
eyes there stood before him a poor boy almost naked. The Nambudiri
took him to the river, gave him a bath, a new set of clothes and a
splendid meal. Much to the surprise of the Nambudiri, soon after
eating the meal the boy disappeared. The search for the little boy
led the Nambudiri to the Aranmulla Temple. But after a brief
encounter the boy disappeared again. The Nambudiri thereafter
brought the food to Aranmulla Temple every year during Onam.
Onam is that, Mahabali Perumal of Thrikkakkara celebrated a
twenty-eight daylong Onam starting from the Thiruvonam day of
karkataka. But the main celebration was in the Thiruvonam day of
Chingam. This day from the different parts of Kerala kings, chieftains
and even common public used to reach Thrikkakkara to visit Mahabali
Perumal and worship the deity Mahadeva.The 'athachamaya' celebration
of the Maharaja of Kochi is associated with the start of this journey
to Thrikkakkara. But due to the lack of proper conveyances the journey
was so difficult in those days. Keeping this in mind Mahabali Perumal
suggested to celebrate Onam in their own houses instead of assembling
in Thrikkakkara. This marked the beginning of this traditional Onam
Atha-pookalam is made for ten days starting from
first day of
Girls in a neighbourhood join together and 'poovideel' (flower
offerings) is performed at the 'pookalam' in accompaniment of songs
sung by women every day early in the morning before sun-rise. Usually, the
pookalam is round in shape. And the diameter
increases each day, as does the variety of flowers, through the ten days of
Earthen idols of Mahabali and Vishnu are placed in the center of
the pookalam and worshiped. The 'poovideel' of the final day
draws small boys in a competition of who seizes more of the special rice
sweets steamed in folded and tied up banana leaves called 'poovada'.
Which are hidden by the girls amidst the flowers.
is another game of
A group of performers
paint their bodies in the likeness of a tiger and
dance to the beat of Thakil and Udukku,
traditional, drum-like music instruments. They prance
about, dance and move like tigers. The tigers are
accompanied by a hunter and a drummer. The theme is
tiger hunting. The scenes enacted include the tiger
catching a goat, being hunted down and so on. The
pulikali performed at Swaraj ground, Thrissur, on
Thiruvonam day is quite popular.
(Thiruvathirakali) is a
dance form performed by girls in the open
around the traditional brass lamp. Singing the
Which talks about the social justice enjoyed by
citizens of Kerala during the reign of Emperor
Mahabali. Who considered his followers as equal and
lies, cheating and theft were unheard of. Everyone
lived happily then. The
The oonjal or swing is
another integral part of the
celebrations, exceptionally popular in rural areas.
Young men, women and children decked in their best,
sing Onapattu (traditional
songs) and rock one another on swings slung from high
branches. Children are thrilled at the sight of a new
swing tied between trees every
near the temple dedicated to Lord Krishna and Arjuna,
thousands of people
on the banks of the river Pampa to witness the snake
boat races. Around thirty chundan vallams or
snake boats take part. And thousands of people gather.
Every member of a village has a place on the boat.
Right from the barber to the goldsmith. Singing
traditional boat songs, the oarsmen in white dhotis
and turbans splash their oars into the water to guide
their boats to cruise along like a fish on the move.
Clapped by the thousands who throng the banks. Silk
umbrellas and golden lace at the head of the boat
denotes the affluence of the family owning the boat.
Gold coins and lassies hang from the umbrellas make it
a spectacular show of pageantry too.
Usually performed in
festival, this is a dance in which only women
participate. All the performers are dressed in
immaculate Onakkodi dress and sit in a circle.
At the center of the circle sits the performer. Now
all the girls sing in chorus to the rhythmic clapping
of hands and occasional vociferations known as
Kurava. The rhythm and the pitch of the clapping
and the songs rise to feverish heights when the girl
in the center enters into a trance and begins to
dance. In movements that mimic the flight of the
feast) was the only sumptuous meal eaten during
Irrespective of social status. A traditional malayalam
proverb reflects on the importance of the feast -
Meaning, one may even sell off one’s possessions
with the traditional feast.
Previously, the sadya included almost 64 items -
eight varieties each, of eight dishes. To accommodate
the number of dishes, three banana leaves were laid,
one below the other! Onasadya is served
in plantain leaf ideally and the dishes include
upperi (chips), pickles, pappads, thoran
(dry vegetables), avial (assorted vegetables),
paayasam / pradhaman (sweet porridges) and
a lot more.
tradition is awaited with baited breath by just about
everyone in the family. Elders gift the young ones
with new clothes on the first day
Which are then worn on Thiruvonam, the third day of
Traditionally the gift used to be Kasavu Pudava (Cloth
woven with golden thread).