Atham is the first day of festivities in the ten-day-long Onam carnival. This day of Atham arrives ten days before the asterism Onam or Thiru Onam. Hence, Atham is regarded holy and auspicious by the traditional people of Kerala.
On Atham, people of Kerala take early baths and offer prayers in the local temple. After that they complete the rituals of Atham. There is a set breakfast consisting of steamed bananas and fried pappadam [pappad] for Atham. This breakfast remains constant until Thiru Onam, the tenth and last day. A swing decorated with flowers is also hung from a high branch. The youngsters take great delight in swinging and singing Oonjal [swing] songs.
The major highlight of Atham is that people start making Pookalam from this day. Pookalam or Athapoo is an intricate flower mat made of fresh flowers. Pookalam is placed in the front courtyard by maidens of the house. Thus, people welcome the holy spirit of legendary King Mahabali. His spirit annually visits Kerala during Onam. In subsequent days, more flowers and new designs are added to this Pookalam. Selection of flowers is also an important matter. A particular flower is selected for each day for a specific deity. Great deal of thought and creativity goes into making of Pookalam. The girls vie with each other for the best design.
A grand procession called Athachamyam is also carried on the day of Atham. This is to mark the beginning of the grand carnival of Onam. The procession is carried out to commemorate the royal custom of the erstwhile state of Kochi. It was customary for the King to travel with his entire entourage to the Thripunithura Fort. Today, even in the absence of the King, the custom still retains its majestic charm. The elephant processions, folk art presentations, music and dancing make Athachamyam a spectacular event. The procession of Athachamyam is of marked importance at Thripunithura, Kochi.
From Atham day, an atmosphere of joy and jubilations envelops the air of Kerala. People get busy in their various activities. Everybody wants to celebrate Onam in best possible manner.
Ten days of Onam: