Kerala festivals - Visitor Kerala Tourism Portal

Onam

Tourists’ paradise Kerala is a land of innumerable festivals and celebrations. The people of Kerala celebrate all the festivals with great pomp and splendor. The way Kerala festivals are celebrated shows how they have become indivisible parts of Kerala culture and daily life.

Among all festivals of Kerala, Onam is the most prominent one. There are many who say that Onam, the most grand celebration of the Keralites, is a nostalgic feeling rather than a festival for them.

All the Keralites, irrespective of their caste, creed and religion celebrate Onam, the ten-day long festival. Floral decoration called ‘Ona Pookalam’ remains one of the key attractions of the festival.

In relation to this festival, many competitons are held among which ‘pookalamundakkal’ (creating pookalam) remains the most important. Apart from this, various other competitions, dance and theatre performances also are conducted. The folk artistic performances include Pulikali/ Kaduvakali (a folk dance in which people masked and painted as tigers are hunted by humans).

Onam Sandhya; a grand meal with lots of curries, chips and payasams, is another attraction. This grand meal is served on Plantain-leaf, making it entirely traditional. Boat races are held in various places in this festival season. They are common in those parts of the state which lie close to backwaters or lakes. 

The women folk perform traditional dances like Thumbi Thullal and Kaikottikali. Songs which praise Mahabali also are sung. All these make Onam the most celebrated among all Kerala festivals.

Mythological Story Behind Onam

Onam is celebrated in the Malayalam month of Chingom, in honor of Mahabali, the demon king who ruled Kerala in the ancient periods. Mythologies say that under his rule, Kerala had a golden era in which none of his ‘prajas’(subjects) were in need of anything.

Mythologies add that even the Gods were jealous of him as there was no corruption and injustice under his rule. Mahabali, characterized as the most benevolent king, was sent down to the abyss by Lord Vishnu who took the avatar of Vamana, a disguised brahmana - bhikshu (beggar)  seeking three foot of land.

Being granted three foot of land, Vamana started growing and he measured the entire heaven and earth with the first two steps and asked for ‘the third foot of land’ to which Mahabali showed his own head. Before sending him down to the abyss, he was granted to visit his prajas once in every year and this is celebrated as Onam now.

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