Onam is a festival consisting of historical as well as cultural significance to the people of India. This time of the year, the south Indian state, Kerala, is filled with enthusiastic people dancing, playing trumpets and drums and celebrating this auspicious festival with harmony. The place is decorated with lights and flowers and many rituals are performed by the people of Kerala.
Onam is a harvest festival celebrated annually in the Southern Indian state of Kerala. It is celebrated by Malayalis as a religious and cultural festival in and outside of India. Many people perform various rituals in order to celebrate this festival. This festival brings joy and laughter to the people celebrating it.
Onam 2021 Date
In the Malayalam calendar, Onam falls on the 22nd nakshatra Thiruvonam of the month Chingam. It overlaps with August – September in the Gregorian calendar. This year 2021, Onam starts on August 12, Thursday and ends on August 23, Monday.
Why do we celebrate Onam?
Onam not only has a cultural value but also a historical importance. This festival is celebrated in order to welcome the spirit of King Mahabali, who according to the legends, visits Kerala at the time of Onam.
History of Onam – Mahabali Legend
There is a Hindu mythology for the celebration of Onam. The demonic King Mahabali was the grandson of a Vishnu devotee Prahlada. It is said that the King took over three worlds after defeating the Gods (Devas).
In Vaishnavism, the gods approached Lord Vishnu for help in the battle against Mahabali, but Vishnu refused considering that Mahabali was a good ruler and his devotee. After his victory over the gods, Mahabali performed a Yajna, during which he would grant any wish to anyone. Taking this opportunity, Lord Vishnu took his dwarf monk avatar, Vamana and, approached Mahabali. Mahabali offered him everything he had but the boy refused and said that one must not seek more than one needs. He asked only for three paces of land and Mahabali agreed.
After that, Vamana grew to enormous size and, in just two paces, he covered everything that Mahabali owned. Mahabali offered his head for Vishnu to step on for the third pace. Vishnu agreed as it was the evidence of Mahabali’s devotion towards him.
Pleased by his devotion, Vishnu offered him a boon which let Mahabali return to visit the land he ruled every year. His revisit marks the festival of Onam. That’s why people celebrate Onam welcoming the King’s spirit with joy and enthusiasm.
There are other mythologies about the celebration of Onam but the Mahabali Legend is widely believed among the people who celebrate Onam.
Onam Rituals and Dishes
Onam is celebrated over ten days. The ten days are named Atham, Chithira, Chodhi, Vishakam, Anizham, Thriketa, Moolam, Pooradam, Uthradam and Thiruvonam. The first day, Atham, and the last day, Thiruvonam, are particularly important for the people who celebrate Onam.
The first day, Atham is the starting of Onam which is marked at Vamanamoorthy Thrikkakara temple in Kochi. The preparations for the visit of Mahabali to his kingdom is started on this day. Various rituals are followed from the starting of this day.
The Onam celebrations start with Attachamayam at Thrippunithura near Kochi. In this parade, elephants march along with people playing drums and other musical instruments. It also includes variety of folk art forms, floats and people with masks dressed colorfully. The float mainly highlights the unity and harmony by performing epics such as Mahabharata and Ramayana as well as stories from Bible and other current themes. The procession path historically leads to the temple from Thripunithara which is dedicated to the Vamana avatar of Lord Vishnu.
Pookalam is a decoration very similar to Rangoli. It is done by woman where they decorate the entrances of their home or temple with variety of flowers in a certain pattern. The pattern is not same everywhere, so there are also competitions held in order to determine who has made the best pattern for Pookalam. They also decorate it by adding lamps on the edges and middle of the Pookalam. It is a religious and traditional art which requires a lot of creativity. For women, mainly, it is a very fun and creative ritual.
Traditional Dance and Music
The Kathakali is a traditional and very well-known dance form of Kerala. It is a classical Indian dance. In this, male actors and dancers perform a “story play” wearing colorful clothes, make ups and face masks as shown in the picture.
Thiruvathirakali is a traditional dance performed by woman. Woman perform this dance in groups. They dance around the Nilavilaku which is a standing lamp. They dance to folk songs of Lord Shiva and Parvati popularly known as Thiruvathira.
Kumattikali is a colorful mask-dance of Kerala. The performers move from house to house entertaining people and in return the people give them small gifts. The original form of Kumattikali can be seen in Bhadrakali temple in Palakkad district of Kerala.
Pulikali is performed on the fourth day of Onam. It is also known as Kaduvakali and is a recreational folk art form of Kerala. In this day, the performers paint themselves as tigers in shades of bright yellow, orange and red colors. They perform to the beats of traditional instruments like Chenda, Thakil and Udukku.
Vallamkali is a boat racing traditional game in Kerala. Various types of boats are included in this race such as paddled long boats, snake boats, and traditional boats of Kerala. This event is held on the Pampa river of Kerala. A boat song called Vachipaatu is sung during the boat race in order to entertain the canoers as well as the audience.
Onam Sadya is the dish served during Onam. It is a traditional feast which consists of vegetarian dishes and is served on a banana leaf. A variety of 29 dishes are served on the leaf in less or more quantity. The dish includes items like rice, sambar, chips, sharkaravaratti, injipuli, pappadam, avial, olan, pickle, dal, thoran, ghee, rasam, puliseri, erisheri, pachadi, coconut chutney and moru. The feast ends with Payasam which is a sweet dessert made from milk, sugar, jiggery, and other traditional Indian savories.
Thiruvonam is the main and last day of Onam. On this day, the people decorate their houses’ entrance with rice flour batter as a welcome sign. They take a shower and get dressed up in new clothes. They also distribute food and other things to the poor. This day is when the spirit of Mahabali visits each home in Kerala and blesses the families. The people gather to feast on Onam Sadya on this day when every other rituals are sorted and the Pookalam is completed.
After the main day, Thiruvonam is over, the following two days are celebrated as third and fourth Onam. The third day is called Avvittom and the fourth day is called Chatayam. On these days, preparations are made for Mahabali’s departure to heaven. The beautiful Pookalam is cleared and the clay statues of Onathappan is immersed in the river or sea.
Onam has a very historical as well as cultural significance among the people of India, mainly the Malayalis. So, every year it is celebrated with joy and laughter. This festival will never lose its importance as everyone cherishes the prosperity that it brings.
Happy wishes for the Onam festival 2021.