Onam, the state festival of Kerala

India is a land of festival, the season  starts from Ganesh Puja, this moves through Id, Onam, Durga puja/Navaratri, Diwali, X-Mas, and then the celebration of new year. All around there is a holiday mood, people take leave from office off and on. Businesses in the country are also in top-gear in buying and selling activities. It is the month of September, and time to celebrate Onam.

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About Onam, it is the state festival of Kerala, it is a harvest festival, and celebrated in Kerala, and wherever keralites go and settle i.e., virtually all over the world. Historically, It is believed that Onam celebrations started during the Sangam Period. Record of celebrations can be found from the time of Kulasekhara Perumals (800 AD). At that time Onam celebrations would continue for a month.

It being a harvesting season, the beautiful state of Kerala turns into its magnificent best. Weather is pleasantly sunny and warm calling for mirth and celebrations. Fields look brilliant as they glow with golden paddy grains. It is also the boom time of fruits and flowers. After the month of deprivation, Karkidakam (last month of Malayalam Calendar), farmers are happy with a bountiful harvest and celebrate the festival to the hilt.

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Myself a bengali, in my long association with Keralites, I have seen that Keralites are honest, culturally rich, educated, industrious, talented, linguistically skilful, and overall, tremendously adaptable to local condition wherever they go. This made them successful. It is no wonder that they are quite a many in my village too, living with a closely knit community of their own, mutually helping each other to grow together. The bickering that we see in other communities, is much less in them.

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. The festival of Onam is celebrated to welcome King Mahabali,  in the beginning of the month of Chingam, the first month of Malayalam Calendar (Kollavarsham). This corresponds with the month of August-September. Onam lasts for ten days. First day, Atham and tenth day, Thiruonam are most important of all. The biggest and the most happening day in the carnival of Onam is Thiruonam. Festivities begin as early as 4 am. People clean up their house, take early bath, wear new clothes and perform elaborate prayers to seek divine blessings. A massive and most exquisite pookalam is prepared on this day to welcome the spirit of King Mahabali.

Highpoint of the day is the enormous lunch called Onasadya. People of Kerala are extremely passionate about this. Even if they cannot easily afford, they will anyhow prepare the meal inclusive of all the 11-13 prescribed dishes. This has led to the saying in Malayalam, “Kanam Vittu Onam Unnanam” which means, “We should have the Thiruonam lunch even if we have to sell all our properties”.

Activities, Events and Recreation

There are a lot of activities that takes place all over the state on Onam. Pulikali performers paint themselves in the guise of a tiger and enact hunting scenes to entertain people. Kummattikali artists don an attire of plaited grass and big wooden mask. They move from house to house collecting small gifts and amusing children.


At Thrissur, caparisoned elephants move out in a procession and present a regal view. While at Cheruthuruthy, Kathakali artists cast a spell on the audience with the magic of their performance. Women perform their graceful traditional clap dance, Kaikotikalli on the day and enthrall the audience. Vallamkali, the popular snake boat race is also organised in several parts of the state to mark the day.

Number of sports and games events are also organised on the day. These are collectively called Onakalikal. Some of them are rigorous sports like Talappanthukali, Kutukutu and combats like Kayyankali and Attakalam. Archery is also a part of Onakalikal.

Senior members have their share of fun by playing indoor games like cards and chess. There is also a tradition of swinging on Onam. A decorated swing is swung on a high branch and young men and women take the pleasure on it while singing traditional songs…………..

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Onam has an economic dimension in it also.  A lot of Keralites living in foreign countries are mostly financially successful people, they have spreaded their culture far and wide. Kerala is gifted with nature’s bounty, and tourism department of Kerala, has successfully sold its tourism to the world.  With this rich and colourful background, it is naturally a dream place to visit, so with this background, Keralits and non-Keralits including foreigners visit Kerala, Onam is a golden opportunity for them. Government of India rightly celebrates ‘Tourist Week’ for Kerala during Onam. As in future tourism will go a long way to solve India’s unemployment problem, Kerala will be in much more focus.

Author: Your useful Books.

An online seller of books. Lives in Mumbai and Kolkata.