Onam, Festival in Kerala
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Onam 2020

Onam 2020 Date

When: 22 August - 1 September 2020
Where: Kerala

Onam is when Kerala parties. Boat races, song and dance, lots of good food, and as much exotica as one can take, are there for the asking. Onam is celebrated in gratitude for the bounties of the land, for all that nature provides for the people. On a slightly different level, the festival also keeps alive the legend of a benevolent ancient ruler called Mahabali, who, it is believed, again visits his subjects - the people of Kerala - during Onam Festival.

The legend of Onam

According to the legend, Kerala was ruled by a demon king Mahabali who otherwise being a good ruler was egoistic. Under his rule Kerala witnessed its golden era as everybody prospered and were happy. Since he was a demon king, Mahabali’s growing popularity made Gods uneasy and hence they used his one shortcoming against him to end his reign. However, Gods granted him a boon that he could visit his people once in a year and it is his visit that is celebrated as Onam every year in Kerala.

Onam Celebrations

For the Onam festival, preparations start as much as ten days in advance. Homes are cleaned and thresholds are decorated with a flower mat called a 'pookalam'; everybody’s in new clothes, and there’s much feasting on delicacies such as the immensely popular rice pudding, payasam.

Pujas take place in homes and temples, and grand processions that include richly caparisoned elephants, dancers and musicians, wend their way through towns and villages, accompanied by fireworks and cheering crowds.

The most important feature of Onam celebrations is a grand feast known as Onasadya that is prepared on Thiruonam which is the important day of celebrations. The feast is essentially a nine course meal featuring 11 to 13 dishes and is traditionally served on a banana leaf.

Kathakali performances and boat races - locally known as vallamkali - are also permanent fixtures during the Onam celebrations. The towns of Kottayam and Aranmulai are, in particular, famed for their Onam boat races.

Onam Rituals

Onam is the most important festival in Kerala and people of Kerala start preparing for Onam days ahead. Although the festivities for Onam last for ten days the two most important days of the festival are the first day and the last or the tenth day.

The first day or Atham is considered as an auspicious day by the people of Kerala as it marks the beginning of Onam. The most important feature of this day is the making of pookalam (floral carpet) which is made by the girls of the house while the boys gather fresh flowers required to make a pookalam.

The pookalam is made in order to welcome the spirit of King Mahabali in whose honour the festival of Onam is celebrated. Everyday fresh flowers are added to the pookalam design resulting in a huge flower carpet on the tenth day.

After offering their morning prayers people sit down to enjoy the scrumptious breakfast of steamed bananas and fried pappadam. This is a fixed breakfast during the ten days of Onam festivities.

Thiruonam or the tenth day of Onam is considered as the big day when entire Kerala is decked up with fresh flowers and everyone wishes each other ‘Thiruonam Aashamsakal’ which translated means Onam wishes to everyone.

People make conical figures of sticky clay and paint them red. These figures are then decorated with rice-flour and water and then placed in the front courtyard and prominent places in the house.

Onam Dances

Another great feature of Onam is its various dances that are performed during the course of festivities. Some of the prominent dance performances are Kummatti kali - The Mask Dance, Pulikali / Kaduvakali, Kathakali, Thumbi Thullal and Kaikotti kali.

For more information on festival in Kerala.

Famous Festivals

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