Onam is a traditional ten day harvest festival that marks the homecoming of the mythical King Mahabali. It’s a festival rich in culture and heritage.
When is Onam Celebrated?
Onam is celebrated in the beginning of the month of Chingam, the first month of Malayalam Calendar (Kollavarsham). In 2014, the most important day of Onam (known as Thiru Onam) is on September 7.Rituals commence approximately 10 days before Thiru Onam, on Atham.
There are actually four days of Onam. First Onam will be on September 15, the day before Thiru Onam, while fourth Onam will be on September 18. Onam festivities continue throughout these days.
Where is Onam Celebrated?
Onam is celebrated in the state of Kerala, in southern India. It’s the biggest festival of the year there. The most spectacular celebrations take place in Kochi, Trivandrum, Thrissur, and Kottayam.
Vamanamoorthy Temple in Thrikkakara (also known as Thrikkakara Temple), located around 15 kilometers northeast of Ernakulam near Kochi, is particularly associated with the Onam Festival. This temple is dedicated to Lord Vamana, the fifth incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Legend has it that Thrikkakara was the abode of good demon King Mahabali, who was popular and generous. His reign was considered to be the golden era of Kerala. However, the gods grew concerned about the King’s power and popularity. As a result, Lord Vamana is said to have sent King Mahabali to the underworld with his foot, and the temple is located at the spot where this happened. The King asked to return to Kerala once a year to ensure that his people were still happy, well fed, and content. Lord Vamana granted this wish, and King Mahabali comes to visit his people and his land during Onam.
The state government also celebrates Tourism Week in Kerala during Onam. Much of Kerala’s culture is showcased during the festivities.
How is Onam Celebrated?
People strikingly decorate the ground in front of their houses with flowers arranged in beautiful patterns (pookalam)to welcome the King. The festival is also celebrated with new clothes, feasts served on banana leaves, dancing, sports, games, and snake boat races.
What Rituals are Performed?
On Atham (10 days before Onam), people start the day with an early bath, perform prayers, and start creating their floral decorations on the ground in front of their houses. The floral decorations (pookalams) continue during the 10 day lead up to Onam, and pookalam competitions are organized by various organizations.
At Thrikkakara Temple, celebrations commence on Atham with a special flag hoisting ceremony and continue for the 10 days with cultural, music, and dance performances. A highlight is the grand procession, pakalpooram, on the day before Thiru Onam. The main deity, Vamana, is carried around the temple grounds on an elephant, followed by a group of caparisoned elephants.
Each day has its own ceremonial significance, and the temple authorities perform various rites involving the main deity and the other deities housed at the temple. The idol of Lord Vamana is decorated in the form of one of the 10 avatars of Lord Vishnu on each of the 10 days of the festival.
Rich or the poor, everybody, prepares Onasadya (Onam Feast) in a grand fashion as people of Kerala are extremely devotional and passionate when it comes to Onasadya.
The food has to be served on a tender Banana leaf, laid with the end to the left hand side. The meal is traditionally served on a mat laid on the floor. A strict order of serving the dishes one after another is obeyed. Besides, there are clear directions as to what will be served in which part of the banana leaf.
Major items. Pappad or Pappadum, banana (can be ‘Rasakadali’, ‘Poovan’, ‘Palayankodan’). – Salt, banana wafers, sarkarapuratti fries, ginger, lime and mango pickles, ‘vellarika’, ‘pavakka’, ‘beetroot’ and ‘ulli kitchadi’. ‘Kitchadi’ made of pineapple and banana splits or of grapes and apple, ‘cabbage thoran’ or thoran made of beans and avial, bread and green peas mix ‘thoran”, kootucurry, ‘parippu curry, ghee, Sambhar, Rasam, butter milk, curd, adaprathaman Payasam, erissery, Kalan or Pulisseri, Olan, Mulakoshyam etc
There will be 11 essential dishes for Onasadya. Number of dishes may go upto 13. Earlier, Onasaya used to be even more elaborate than depicted above. There were about 64 mandatory dishes – eight varieties each of the eight dishes. At that time three banana leaves were served one under the other to accommodate all the dishes.
Onasadya is to be consumed with hands and avoid spoon and fork to enjoy the real taste of Kerala. Rice is the essential and major ingredient of Onam Sadya.
There is an old saying “’Kaanam Vittum Onam Unnanam” means “people should prepare Onam Sadya, even selling all there possessions”.