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Understanding The Kerala Harvest Festival Of Onam

Onam is the biggest and the most important harvest festival of the state of Kerala in India is celebrated with joy and enthusiasm. Onam 2020 began on Saturday, 22 August and ends on Wednesday, 2 September. According to a popular legend, the festival is celebrated to welcome King Mahabali, whose spirit is said to visit Kerala during this period. Onam is celebrated at the beginning of the month of Chingam, which is the first month of Malayalam Calendar (Kollavarsham). This corresponds with the month of August-September according to Gregorian Calendar.

The areas of Kochi, Trivandrum, Thrissur, and Kottayam are where the most spectacular celebrations take place. Thrikkakara Temple, 15 km northeast of Ernakulam, is especially associated with Onam Festival. Every Onam, Malayalees revive and relive the happy times under Mahabali’s reign. The celebration is a carnival atmosphere that lasts from four to ten days and much smaller in other parts of the world where Indian diaspora communities are present.

Meaning ‘the play of the tiger’Pulikali dates back over 200 years. It was introduced by the former Maharaja of Kochi who wanted a dance that was wild and had oodles of manliness!

The first day of Onam is known as Atham and tenth day called Thiruonam are known to be the most important of all. It was the collective efforts of the people of Kerala showcasing the rich culture of the Indian state actually made Onam the National Festival of Kerala in 1961.

The carnival is one of elaborate feasts, folk songs, elegant dances, energetic games, elephants, boats and flowers all are a part of the dynamic festival called Onam.

The government of India has taken due notice of this vibrant and colorful festival. It promotes Onam internationally in a big way and celebrates ‘Tourist Week’ for Kerala during Onam celebrations. Thousands of domestic and foreign tourists visit Kerala to be a part of Onam.

The story goes that during the reign of mighty asura (demon) king, Mahabali, Kerala witnessed its golden era. Everybody was happy and prosperous and king was highly regarded by his subjects. Apart from all his virtues, Mahabali had one shortcoming. He was egoistic. This weakness in Mahabali’s character was utilized by Gods to bring an end to his reign as they felt challenged by Mahabali’s growing popularity. However, for all the good deed done by Mahabali, God granted him a boon that he could annually visit his people with whom he was so attached.

The most impressive part of Onam celebration is the grand feast called Onasadya, prepared on Thiruonam. It is a nine course meal consisting of 11 to 13 essential dishes.

Onasadya is served on banana leaves and people sit on a mat laid on the floor to have the meal.

Another enchanting feature of Onam is Vallamkali, the Snake Boat Race, held on the river Pampa. 

It is a colourful sight to watch the decorated boat oared by hundreds of boatmen amidst chanting of songs and cheering by spectators.

There is also a tradition to play games, collectively called Onakalikal, on Onam. Men go in for rigorous sports like Talappanthukali (played with ball), Ambeyyal (Archery), Kutukutu and combats called Kayyankali and Attakalam.

Women indulge in cultural activities like creating intricately designed flower mats called, Pookalam in the front courtyard of house to welcome King Mahabali.

Kaikotti kali and Thumbi Thullal are two graceful dances performed by women on Onam. Folk performances like Kummatti kali and Pulikali add to the zest of celebrations. Watch the performance of the dance by clicking here

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