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Thursday, October 28, 2021

No boat race, no Athachamayam: Kerala is celebrating an indoor Onam amid pandemic

With Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan calling for indoor celebrations, major events related to Onam have been cancelled, as people let tradition take a backseat over safety.

Written by Meera Kalyani | New Delhi |
Updated: August 28, 2020 11:13:15 pm
Onam, Onam 2020,Onam celebrations, Onam tradition, 2020 Onam date, 2020 Onam celebrations, Onam celebration guidelines,  Onam and covid-19, Kerala news, Indian Express newsWhile large scale public celebrations were called off, other significant traditions were carried out minimalistically.

Every year, from Atham (on August 22 this year) to Thiruvonam (on August 31), God’s own country Kerala wears a festive cheer as it celebrates the 10 days of Onam, the harvest festival.

However, the Covid-19 pandemic has taken the sheen off the festivities this year. With Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan calling for indoor celebrations, major events related to Onam have been cancelled, as people let tradition take a backseat over safety.

This is how the major Onam events have fared amid the pandemic.

Thrikkakara Temple festival

The main temple festival for Onam is held at the Vamana Moorthy temple in Thrikkakara, among the few temples dedicated to Lord Vamana. Thrikkakara is considered the abode of Mahabali.

Legend has it that the temple is at the site where king Mahabali was sent to Patala (the underworld) by Lord Vamana, with his foot. In fact, the place derives its name from this legend — “Thiru-Kaal-Kara” means ‘the place of the holy foot’.

Vamana Moorthy temple. Legend has it that the temple is at the site where king Mahabali was sent to Patala (the underworld) by Lord Vamana, with his foot. (Picture credit:

From the Athachamayam, art performances, Onam feast (Sadhya) to the final procession (Pakalpooram on day 9), the traditions and festivities here last 10 days.

However, with the ongoing pandemic, except the temple traditions, all major celebrations, such as processions and the iconic Onam Sadhya (feast), have been called off.

Also Read | A video that combines Maveli, Onam and the COVID-19 pandemic is a hit on social media

“Though the temple is open for the public, all major celebrations have been called off and only the temple traditions, like the ‘Chaarthu’( idol decoration), are being carried out,” Narayanan Namboothiri, a former priest at the temple, told

Namboothiri also said that as per the Centre’s guideline, only five people will be allowed inside the temple at a time, in view of the COVID-19 situation.


Athachamayam, which is also a part of the Thrikkakara temple festival, is a cultural fiesta that marks the beginning of the 10-day festivities of Onam.

A traditional Athachamayam procession is held at Tripunithura, a region in the city of Kochi, on the day of Atham as per the Malayalam calendar.

From Pulikkali, Theyyam, Mayilattom and classical art forms like Kathakali, a typical Athachamayam is a display of almost all folk art forms of Kerala. Floats, folk music and dance add colour to the procession.

This year, the procession was cancelled due to the worsening COVID-19 situation in the state.

Boat Races

A boat race, traditionally known as Vallam Kali in Malayalam, is a form of canoe racing integral to Onam celebrations. The race, which is also a major tourist attraction, includes several types of paddle boats or snake boats (Chundan vallam), about 30 to 35 meters in length.

Nehru Trophy boat race

Among the most popular such races is the Nehru Trophy boat race, held in the Punnamada Lake in Alappuzha, Kerala. The race is highly competitive, with various categories.  This year was to be its 68th edition.

In view of the pandemic, the race, earlier scheduled for the second Saturday of August, has been postponed indefinitely.

Aranmula Uthrattathi boat race

Aranmula Uthrattathi boat race in Pathanamthitta is another famous boat racing event.

According to folklore, a devout Brahmin had promised to give all the requirements for the Tiruvona Sadya (Onam feast) at the Parthasarathy temple in Aranmula. As the requirements were being transported to the temple, the boat (Thiruvona Thoni) carrying it was attacked by bandits. However, local ‘snake boats’ from the surrounding areas came to the rescue and helped fulfil the Brahmin’s promise, thus marking the genesis of the boat race in the area.

Aranmula Uthrattathi boat race near Pathanamthitta district’s Aranmula. (Picture credit: )

Aranmula boat race, unlike the Nehru Trophy boat race, is less competitive and is more about traditions. This year, it was supposed to be held on September 4.

Palliyoda Seva Sangam(PSS), a 13-member executive committee which takes decisions regarding the race and the Valla Sadhya (feast) that follows, had put forward a proposal seeking permission to conduct the event adhering to social distancing norms.

Krishna Kumar Vanmazhy, President of PSS confirmed to the, that the Uthrattathi boat race remains cancelled in view of the social distancing norms, as typically a total of 52 snake boats compete against each other for the trophy.

A single palliyodam (large snake boat), which has been decided by the committee, will carry out a ceremonial procession, for the sake of temple traditions,” Vanmazhy added.

Indicating further changes, Vanmazhy said that the number of snake boats going as escorts for the Thiruvona Thoni will also be reduced.

“Only a single palliyodam will go as Akambadi (Escort) for the Thiruvona Thoni and the escort will only carry 24 people as against a 110,” he said.

The Ashtami Rohini Valla Sadhya, which takes place on the day of Rohini as per the Malayalam calendar, will only serve the oarsmen of lone palliyodam.

A typical Valla Sadhya will see around 50,000 people from across the state, apart from all the oarsmen of the snake boats.

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