Onam is a very popular Hindu festival celebrated by the people of Kerala. This Malayali festival is celebrated by Malayalam speaking people all over the world. Onam is celebrated in the month of Chingam as per Malayalam Solar Calendar, which usually falls in August or September. In other solar calendars Chingam month is known as Simha month and in Tamil Calendar it is known as Avani month. The day when Thiruvonam Nakshatra prevails in Chingam month is considered for the main Onam celebrations. Thiruvonam Nakshatra is also known as Shravana in other Hindu Calendars.
The festival is associated with a legend of the Vamana avatar of Lord Vishnu and the legendary demon King Mahabali. Onam is celebrated to welcome the annual homecoming of the Asura King Mahabali from the netherworld (Patala). It is believed that on Thiruvonam day the Asura King Mahabali visits every Malayali home and blesses his people.
Onam celebrations begin on the day of Atham Nakshatra in Chingam and continue for 10 days till Thiruvonam day, which is the main day of Onam celebration. In other Hindu Calendars, Atham Nakshatra is known as Hasta Nakshatra. People celebrate this 10-day festival with great passion and the government organizes several cultural programs and festivities throughout the state of Kerala.
Rituals of Onam Festival:
1) Onam is the rice harvest festival of Kerala. It is also known as the festival of Rain flowers.
2) All the ten days of celebration of Onam has its own significance.
3) The characteristic floral designs known as ‘pookkalam’ are symbolic of this festival. Usually the women of the house make different types of patterns on the ground with flowers and lit lamps to invite King Mahabali to their house.
4) People gift and wear new clothes; this is known as onakkodi.
5) Grand feasts are prepared on this occasion. This is known as onam ‘sadya’. Usually around 13 dishes are prepared for this. The food is served on banana leaves and commonly consists of rice along with different dishes, pickles and papads.
6) A characteristic sweet dish called ‘payasam’ is a must during Onam. It is made of rice, milk, sugar and coconut.
7) Vallamkali is the ritual of Snake boat race called ‘chundans’ that is a grand event in Kerala nowadays. Huge snake shaped boats rowed by hundreds of oarsmen compete with each other. Huge amounts of cash rewards are distributed as prizes for the winners.
8) People burn fire crackers on Onam Festival.
9) Elephants decorated with huge amounts of gold ornaments are characteristic of Onam processions.
10) Thrikkakara appan or Vaman Vishnu idols are installed at homes for worship.
11) Different types of cultural activities mark the celebration of Onam which include the traditional Kathakali dance, music, art and cuisine.
12) Special dancers painted in yellow and black resembling tigers are seen commonly during Onam performing Pulikali dance.
13) This time of the year is declared as the Tourism week in Kerala as this is the best time to visit the state.
14) Onam is of special importance as it unites people of all religions residing in the state. It spreads the message of unity and peace in society.