Onam is one of the most popular regional festivals of Kerala. It is celebrated by all Keralites regardless of their caste or religion. People rejoice the return of King Mahabali, the kind demon king who once ruled the land.The festival is celebrated every year for ten days which comes in the Malayalam month of Chingam (end of August and start of September) and is celebrated with pomp and joy. This festival is also a harvest festival. People decorate their homes with fresh flower mats known as 'Pookalam' to welcome the King Mahabali. They wear new dresses; go to the temples to worship God and perform traditional dances such as Thiruvathirakali and Thumbi Tullal. There is a grand lunch called 'Sadya' on the Thiruonam, the tenth day of Onam, which is considered very important and absolutely essential. These ten days are meant for feasting, indulging in boat racing, music and dancing to welcome their king. Delicious homely food served on banana leaves and the sweet Payasam are the most common delicacies of Onam. There are processions of decorated elephants, fireworks and Kathakali dancers. Many cultural and sport events and carnivals are also organized during this festival.
History of Onam
According to the legend, Lord Vishnu decided to test the charitable nature of King Mahabali. He came as a poor Brahmin child called 'Vamana' to the King and asked him to give the land covered by his three footsteps. The generous king agreed to give the land and asked him to take the land from wherever he wants. Vamana, then grew in size and covered the whole earth by one foot and the heaven with his other foot. King Mahabali gladly presented his head to place his third foot to the extraordinary child. This won him the favor of Vishnu, who gave him the kingdom of Patala and the blessing to visit his kingdom of Kerala once in a year to see his people. After this incident, people started celebrating the festival of 'Onam' to welcome King Mahabali at their place. This celebration continues for ten days. First day is known as 'Atham' and the last day is called 'Thiruonam'. People wear new clothes in these days and it is said that by putting new clothes all evil feelings and thoughts are removed.
Celebrations and Rituals
Celebration of Onam begins with 'Atham', first day in the Malayalam month of Chingam. It is said that King Mahabali starts preparing to come on the ground of Kerala. It also starts with a grand procession of elephants, dance and music at Thrippunithura near Kochi. This procession is called 'Athachamyam'. On this day, people decorate their houses with Pookalam. Second day is called 'Chithira' and on this day people start cleaning utensils for preparing food for the last day of Onam. 'Chodi' is the third day of the celebration. On this day, people buy new clothes and jewelries. Fourth day is 'Vishakam', on this day sale of the crops start. 'Anizham', the fifth day of Onam is very important because on this day 'Vallam Kali' the snake boat race starts and it is the center of attraction of this festival. Sixth day is 'Thriketa' and from this day official holidays begins. On the seventh day which is known as 'Moolam', Puli Kali (masked leopard dance) and other traditional dance forms are performed. Fireworks are also done on this day. 'Pooradam' is the eighth day of Onam and on this day Pookalam is made very big in size and the idols of King Mahabali and Vamana are washed. Ninth day is 'Uthradom', which is also known as the eve of celebration. It is considered the most favorable day to buy fruits and vegetables. 'Thiruonam' is the tenth and last day of the Onam. It is said that, on this day King Mahabali comes to Kerala to visit his land and to bless his people. This is the most sacred day of Onam festival.
Though primarily celebrated in Kerala by Malayalis, today, Onam is celebrated by Hindus, Muslims and Christians as well of that region. It is the most important festival and is celebrated in the period between the end of August and beginning of September. It unites people irrespective of their cast and creed. Many lamps are lit in Hindu temples of Kerala during this celebration. A palmyra tree is erected in front of temples and surrounded with a wooden balustrade and covered with dry palmyra leaves. It is lit with a torch and burned to ashes to signify that Mahabali went to hell as a sacrifice.
Onam celebration in Kerala is much hyped as the Kerala's most popular festival. It features feasts, traditional dances, boat races and merriment.
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