Onam is considered one of the biggest and most awaited festivals in Kerala. Known as the harvest festival, people of all communities come together to celebrate the day with enthusiasm and joy. It is believed that on the day of Onam, the spirit of King Mahabali visits Kerala and the festival is a preparation to welcome him.
As per the the Malayalam calendar, known as Kollavarsham, Onam is celebrated in the beginning of the month of Chingam, which in the Gregorian calendar falls in the month of August-September. This year the festival will begin on August 25 and continue till September 4. The celebration of Onam is spread over ten days and culminates on Thiruonam. The first day, known as Atham and the last day, Thiruonam, are considered the most important and auspicious days of the festival. Onam, which showcases the culture and heritage of the state, was declared as the national festival of Kerala in 1961. Elaborated feasts and functions are some of the main attractions of Onam. Thiruvathira Kali (a traditional dance of Kerala), snake-boat races, pookalams (flower rangolis), singing folk songs, Pulikali (the dance of tigers) are significant parts of Onam celebrations.
The story behind the festival
It is believed that the festival originated in Vamanamoorthy Temple, in Thrikkakara , which is located around fifteen kms away from Kochi. Lord Vamana, the fifth incarnation of Lord Vishnu, is worshipped in this temple. As per popular stories, the demon King Mahabali resided in the temple and it was during his era that Kerala flourished the most. He was known to be generous and giving and his reign over Kerala is considered known to be the golden era. Interestingly, the popularity of the demon King bothered the Gods and it is believed that Vamana sent Mahabali to the underworld. However, due to his good deeds and the love that his people had for him, Mahabali was allowed to visit Kerala and his people during the month of Onam.
How the celebration goes
On the first day of Onam, Atham, people have an early morning bath and begin their day with morning prayers and house decorations. People decorate their homes and common grounds with flower arrangements (pookalams) of intricate patterns symbolising a welcome for the arrival of the king. The pookalams are made throughout the ten days. At the Thrikkakara temple in Kochi, dedicated to Vamana god, celebration begins with a flag hoisting and then continues with dances and performances. The idol of Lord Vamana is dressed in one of the avatars of Lord Vishnu and a procession takes place.
One of the main highlights of the festival is the grand feast known as Onasadya, which is a nine course meal serving ten to thirteen dishes including rice, sambar, avial, rasam, payasam (sweet dish) among others. It is served on Thiruonam — the day of the main festivities. Thousands of people come to the Thrikkakara temple to pay their regards to the deity and take part in the festival during this time.