Being primarily an agricultural country for decades, the harvest festivals of India are celebrated with much vigour. Regional variations make the festivals of South and North very distinct, giving a traveller good reason to visit both parts of the country and see the cultural differences.
One of the most popular festivals of South India, Onam, is celebrated in the state of Kerala. It is one of the major Hindu festivals and is celebrated all over the state with tremendous zeal.
The story goes that during the reign of demon King Mahabali, Kerala was its peak of a golden era. The region was prosperous and people were happy. The King, though very generous, had a debilitating shortcoming of being over egoistical. The knowledge of his weakness made the Gods end his rule on earth. Given his popularity with his subjects, the Gods allowed him to return annually for a visit to the region. The festival celebrates the homecoming of the beloved King each year and allows people to wish him well.
When is it celebrated?
The Malayam month of Chingam is auspicious for celebrating Onam. This falls in August or September each year, during the monsoon season.
How is it celebrated?
Elaborate preparations are made before the festival starts. Houses are given a thorough cleaning, kollams are made outside homes and the grand feast Onasadya is made. The nine course meal entails 11-13 essential dishes which are laid out on banana leaves.
Another important way to mark the month of Onam is by the season of boat races. Starting from Champakulum to the Nehru Boat Race trophy, the serene backwaters go through a turbulent battle between the villages with strains of ‘Vallamkali’ songs in the background, as over 100 oarsmen row long snake boat races.
People also participate in sports like Talappanthukali (ball), Ambeyyal (archery), Kutukutu and combat forms like Kayyankali and Attakalam.
Pookalam or flower mats are put outside houses to welcome King Mahabali.
Cultural activities in the form of dance and music fill the air. Women, especially perform Kaikotti kali and Thumbi Thullal, two local dances.
If you want to arrive only for the highlights, don’t miss:
- Nehru Snake Boat Race – Amongst 8 other races, this one is the most popular and held on a grand scale.
- Onasadya – This food is prepared only once a year, if you can get an invitation into a home where it is being prepared you will be be able to enjoy the feast at its best.
- Attend a folk performance like Kummatti kali and Pulikali to feel the cultural vibe of the festival.
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