ONAM (Malayalam : ഓണം) is an annual
Hindu festival with origins
in the state of
India . It falls in the Malayalam
calendar month of Chingam, which in Gregorian calendar overlaps with
August–September. The festival commemorates the
Mahabali , Vamana
Parashurama -related mythologies of
Onam is a major annual event for Malayali people in and outside
Kerala. It marks the summer harvest and is celebrated with numerous
festivities. It includes Vallam
Kali (boat races),
dances), Pookkalam (flower arrangement), Onathappan (worship), Onam
Kali, Tug of War, Thumbi Thullal (women's dance), Kummati kali (mask
dance), Onathallu (martial arts),
Onavillu (music), Kazhchakkula
(plantain offerings), Onapottan (costumes), Atthachamayam (folk songs
and dance), and other celebrations. It is the New Year day for
Onam is the official state festival of
Kerala with public holidays
that start four days from
Onam Eve (Uthradom). It is celebrated by
Malayali diaspora around the world. Though a
Hindu communities of
Kerala participate in
considering it as a cultural festival. However, some non-Hindus in
Kerala denounce its celebration as a cultural event because they
consider it as a religious festival.
* 1 Significance
* 1.3 Cultural festival
* 2 Celebrations, rituals and practices
* 2.1 Athachamayam
* 2.2 Pookkalam: flower arrangements
* 2.3 Music and dance
* 2.4 Pulikali: tiger dance
* 2.5 Vallamkali: boat race
* 2.7 Post
* 2.8 Other customs
* 3 Outside
* 4 See also
* 5 References
* 6 External links
Vishnu , and
Onam is an ancient
Hindu festival of
Kerala that celebrates rice
harvest. The significance of the festival is in
Hindu legends, of
which two are more common.
According to the
Hindu mythology ,
Mahabali was the great great
grandson of a
Kashyapa and grandson of Prahlada . This
links it to the Puranic mythology of Prahlada of
Holika fame in
Hinduism, who is the son of demon dictator
Hiranyakashyap . Prahlada,
despite being born to a demonic
Asura father who hated Vishnu,
rebelled against his father's persecution of people and worshipped
Hiranyakashyap tries to kill his son Prahlada, but is slained
Vishnu in his
Narasimha avatar , Prahlada is saved. The dwarf
Vamana taking a leap-step is a part of many
Hindu temple arts (above),
and one legend behind Onam.
Mahabali came to power by defeating the gods
(Devas ), and taking over the three worlds. According to Vaishnavism
mythology, the defeated Devas approached
Vishnu for help in their
battle with Mahabali.
Vishnu refused to join the gods in violence
against Mahabali, because
Mahabali was a good ruler and his own
devotee. He, instead, decided to test Mahabali's devotion at an
opportune moment. Mahabali, after his victory over the gods, declared
that he will perform
Yajna (homa sacrifices) and grant anyone any
request during the Yajna.
Vishnu took the avatar of a dwarf boy called
Vamana and approached Mahabali. The king offered anything to the boy
– gold, cows, elephants, villages, food, whatever he wished. The boy
said that one must not seek more than one needs, and all he needs is
the property right over a piece of land that measures "three paces".
Vamana grew and covered everything
Mahabali ruled over in just
two paces. For the third pace,
Mahabali offered himself, an act which
Vishnu accepted as evidence of Mahabali's devotion.
him a boon, by which
Mahabali could visit again, once every year, the
lands and people he previously ruled. This revisit marks the festival
of Onam, as reminder of the virtuous rule and his humility in keeping
his promise before Vishnu. The last day of Mahabali's stay is
remembered with a nine course vegetarian Onasadya feast.
According to Nanditha Krishna, a simpler form of this legend, one
without Mahabali, is found in the
Rigveda and the Vedic text
Brahmana where a solar deity is described with powers of
Vishnu. This story likely grew over time, and is in part allegorical,
where Bali is a metaphor for thanksgiving offering after a bounty of
rice harvest during monsoon, and
Vishnu is the metaphor of the Kerala
sun and summer that precedes the Onam. According to Roshen Dalal, the
Mahabali is important to
Onam in Kerala, but similar Mahabali
legends are significant in the region of Balia in Uttar Pradesh, Bawan
also in the same state, Bharuch in Gujarat, and Mahabaleshwar in
Maharashtra. The story is significant not because Mahabali's rule
ended, but it emphasizes the
Hindu belief in cyclical nature of
events, that no individual, no ruler and nothing lasts forever, except
the virtues and self understanding that overcomes all sorrow.
An alternate legend behind
Onam relates to
Parashurama , an
Vishnu who is credited in
Hindu mythology to have
Western Ghats from southern tip of Kerala,
Karnataka , Goa
and up to
Maharashtra . According to this legend,
Vishnu got upset
with the kings and the warrior caste who were constantly at war and
were arrogant over others.
Vishnu took the avatar of Parashurama, or "
Rama with an axe" and also
Rama Jamadagyna, in the era of King Kaartavirya. This king
persecuted and oppressed the people, the sages and the gods. One day,
the king came to the hermitage of
Parashurama and his mother Renuka,
Parashurama was away, the king without permission took
away the calf of their cow. When
Parashurama returned, he felt the
injustice of the king, called him to war, and killed the king and all
his oppressive warriors. At the end he threw the axe, and wherever it
fell, the sea retreated, creating the land of
Kerala and other coastal
western parts of Indian subcontinent. Another version states that
Parashurama brought Namboodri Brahmins to southwestern parts of India,
by creating a mini-Himalaya like mountain range with his axe. The Onam
festival, according to this legend, celebrates Parashurama's creation
Kerala by marking those days as the new year.
The legend and worship of
Parashurama is attested in texts and
epigraphs dated to about the 2nd century CE.
The festival is also celebrated by Christians of Kerala, in its
churches. These traditions, according to Selvister Ponnumuthan, start
with the lighting of Nilavilakku, an arati that includes waving of
flowers (pushparati) over the Bible, eating the
Onam meal together
with the Hindus as a form of "communion of brothers and sisters of
different faiths". The significance of these practices are viewed by
Kerala Christians as a form of integration with Hindus, mutual
respect and sharing a tradition.
The festival has been declared as wrong and forbidden for Muslims
Haram ) by Islamic preachers. Some Muslim Indian politicians light
traditional vilakku (oil lamps), while others have refused to light
these lamps at
Onam events declaring it to be a
Hindu tradition and
against the teachings of Islam. Muslim daily newspapers and other
publications have condemned Muslim ministers who participate in Onam
traditions. However some Muslims observe
Onam anyway, considering
its celebrations and rituals as a cultural practice.
CELEBRATIONS, RITUALS AND PRACTICES
Onam falls in the month of Chingam, which is the first month
according to the Malayalam Calendar . The celebrations mark the
Malayalam New Year, are spread over ten days, and conclude with
Thiruvonam. The ten days are sequentially known as Atham, Chithira,
Chodhi, Vishakam, Anizham, Thriketa, Moolam, Pooradam, Uthradom and
Thiruvonam. The first and the last day are particularly important in
Kerala and to Malayalee communities elsewhere.
The Atham day is marked with the start of festivities at
Thrikkakara temple (
Kochi ). This
Vishnu temple is
considered as the focal centre of
Onam and the abode of Mahabali, with
the raising of the festival flag. Parades are held, which are
colourful and depict the elements of
Kerala culture with floats and
Other days have diverse range of celebrations and activities ranging
from boat races, dance events, martial arts, floral designs, prayers,
shopping, donating time or food for charity to spending time with
family over feasts. Men and women wear traditional dress. The Kerala
sari or Kasavu sari is particularly popular.
Onam starts off every year with a parade called Athachamayam.
Onam celebrations across the state, starts off with a grand
Kochi called Atthachamayam, also
referred to as Thripunithura Athachamayam. The parade features
elephants marching, drum beats and other music, folk art forms, floats
and colorfully dressed people with masks. In Kerala's history, the
Kochi king used to head a grand military procession in full ceremonial
robes from his palace to the Thrikkakara temple, meeting and greeting
his people. In contemporary times, this a state supported event.
The parade floats traditionally feature scenes from epics such as the
Mahabharata and the
Ramayana . Additionally, some floats include
themes from the
Bible as well as current themes thereby highlighting
unity and harmony.
The procession path historically has been from Tripunithura to the
Vamanamoorthy Temple in Thrikkakara, Ernakulam district. The temple is
Vishnu in his
Vamana (dwarf) avatar. After arrival at the
temple, the marchers offer a prayer.
POOKKALAM: FLOWER ARRANGEMENTS
Floral arrangement during
Onam are a tradition
The floral carpet, known as Onapookkalam or just Pookkalam, is made
out of the gathered blossoms with several varieties of flowers of
differing tints pinched up into little pieces to design and decorate
patterns on floor, particularly at entrances and temple premises like
a flower mat. Lamps are arranged in the middle or edges. It is a work
of religious art, typically the team initiative of girls and women,
who accomplish it with a delicate touch and a personal artistic sense
of tone and blending. When completed, a miniature pandal (umbrella)
hung with little festoons is erected over it. The pookkalam is
Rangoli which is made of powders of various colors and is
popular in North India.
The traditional ritual of laying pookkalam (floral carpet) starts on
Atham day. The pookkalam on this day is called Athapoo, and it is
relatively small in size. The size of the pookkalam grows in size
progressively with each day of the
Onam festival. Only yellow flowers
will be used on Atham with only one circular layer made and the design
is kept simple. Statues or figurines of
Vamana are also
installed at the entrance of each house on this day.
Traditionally, Atthapookalams included flowers endemic to
the Dashapushpam (10-flowers), but nowadays all varieties of flowers
are used. Earthen mounds, which look somewhat like square pyramids,
Vamana are placed in the dung-plastered
courtyards in front of the house along with the Pookalam, and
beautifully decorated with flowers. All over Kerala, Pookalam
competitions are a common sight on
MUSIC AND DANCE
Kali dance during Onam.
Traditional dance forms including Thiruvathira, Kummattikali,
Pulikali, Thumbi Thullal,
Kali and others.
Thiruvathira kali is a
women's dance performed in a circle around a lamp.
Kummattikali is a
colourful-mask dance. In
Thrissur , festivities includes a procession
consisting of caparisoned elephants surrounded by Kummatikali dancers.
The masked dancers go from house to house performing the colorful
Kali is a form of dance where players arrange
themselves in circles around a pole or tree or lamp, then dance and
sing songs derived from the
Ramayana and other epics. Kathakali
performances are a part of
Kathakali dance is also commonly performed during this time, with
dancers enacting famous mythological legends. A famous venue for this
is at Valluvanad which is associated with the growth of Kathakali,
Cheruthuruthy , where
Kerala Kalamandalam is located.
PULIKALI: TIGER DANCE
Pulikali is a dance in tiger constumes.
Pulikali , also known as
Kaduvakali is a common sight during Onam
season. This dance showcases performers painted like tigers in bright
yellow, red and black, who dance to the beats of instruments like
Chenda and thakil.
Performances of the ritual worship dance
Theyyam are given during the
Onam season. In this,
Mahabali is played by the Onathar. Its
variations include characters such as Oneswaran and Onapottan.
At the Thrikkakara temple, every day of the festival showcases one or
more of these activities including Kathakali, Thiruvathira, Chakyar
koothu, Ottam thullal, Patakam,
Onam songs and percussion instrument
shows. The Onasadya here is grand in scale, and is attended by over
ten thousand people from all religions and faiths. Festivities
Puli Kali (masked leopard dance) and traditional dance forms
Kali which are performed in various functions. The
official Government celebrations start on this day with heavy
Kozhikode along with
Most cities in Kerala, such as the political, commercial and cultural
Thrissur , are lit up with
lights and fabulous displays of fireworks. Sumptuous
are prepared. In
Thrikkakara temple , a mega-feast is conducted which
is open to the public and is attended by more than twenty thousand
VALLAMKALI: BOAT RACE
Onam boat race
Vallamkali (the snake boat race) is another event that is
synonymous with Onam. Well-known races include the Aranmula
Uthrattadhi Boat Race and the
Nehru Trophy Boat Race . Numerous
oarsmen row huge snake-shaped boats. Men and women come from far and
near to watch and cheer the snake boats race through the water. This
event is particularly featured on the
Pampa River , considered sacred
Kerala equivalent of
Ganges River .
As a tribute to the traditional snake boat race, a similar snake boat
race is also held by the Malayali diaspora in Singapore annually
Onam at the
Jurong Lake .
Sadya is the traditional nine or more course vegetarian meal
served on banana leaf.
Onam harvest festival is marked with a
special feast lunch on last day and includes rice and a sweet at the
Onam sadya (feast) is another very indispensable part of
Thiruvonam, and almost every Keralite attempts to either make or
attend one. The Onasadya reflects the spirit of the season and is
traditionally made with seasonal vegetables such as yam, cucumber, ash
gourd and so on. The feast is served on plantain leaves and consists
of nine courses, but may include over two dozen dishes, including (but
not limited to): Chips (especially Banana chips ), Sharkaraveratti
(Fried pieces of banana coated with jaggery),
Pappadam , various
vegetable and soups such as
Injipuli (also called PuliInji),
Kaalan , Olan ,
Avial , Sambhar ,
Dal served along
with a small quantity of ghee , Erisheri, Molosyam ,
Rasam , Puliseri
(also referred to as Velutha curry), Kichadi (not to be confused with
Khichdi ) and
Pachadi (its sweet variant), Moru (Curd with water),
Pickles both sweet and sour, buttermilk, coconut chutney. The feast
ends with a series of dessert called Payasam (a sweet dish made of
milk, sugar, jaggery and other traditional Indian savories) eaten
either straight or mixed with a ripe small plantain. The curries are
served with rice, usually the '
Kerala Matta' parboiled rice preferred
In hotels and temples, the number of curries and dishes may go up to
30. The importance of the feast to the Kerala's
culture is captured in the famous Malayalam proverb "Kaanam Vittum
Onam Unnanam" which means "One must have the
Onam lunch even selling
his property, to have so". The Travancore-style Onasadya is renowned
to be the most disciplined and tradition-bound.
POST ONAM CELEBRATIONS
Normally, the largest chunk of
Onam celebrations end by Thiruvonam.
However the two days following Thiruvonam are also celebrated as Third
and Fourth Onam. The third Onam, called AVVITTOM marks the
preparations for King Mahabali's return ascension to heavens. The main
ritual of the day is to take the Onathappan statue which was placed in
the middle of every pookkalam during the past 10 days and immerse it
in nearby rivers or sea. The pookkalam will be cleaned and removed
after this ritual.
Onapottan in traditional costume is a custom in northern Kerala.
Onapottan visits houses and gives blessings.
People buy and wear new clothes for the occasion of Onam, and this
tradition is called the Onakkodi.
During the Onam, Keralite Hindus install an image of Thrikkakara
Appan or Onatthappan (
Vishnu in the form of Vamana) in their home
just as Hindus install images or murtis of Lord
Ganesha on the Ganesha
Chaturthi festival elsewhere.
Many lamps are lit in
Hindu temples of
Kerala during this
celebration. A palmyra tree is erected in front of temples and
surrounded with a wooden balustrade and covered with dry palmyra
leaves. It is lit with a torch and burned to ashes to signify that
Mahabali went to Patala as a sacrifice.
The swing is another integral part of Onam, especially in the rural
areas. Young men and women, decked in their best, sing Onappaatt, or
Onam songs, and rock one another on swings slung from high branches.
Onam season is often associated with creativity as weavers and
potters go for excess production to cater to increased demands for
their products during the season, especially in North
Kasargod . Handloom fairs are an integral part of the
Onam festivities these days.
In some parts of Kerala, people indulge in various games and dances
during and post-Thiruvonam. These are known as ONAKKALIKAL. These
include competitions such as Ox races (MARAMADIMATSARAM), URIYADY ,
food-eating competitions, Pookalam competitions etc.
Onam is also celebrated by the worldwide Malayali diaspora.
Celebrations are notable in the United Arab Emirates, Singapore and
Onathallu or Avittathallu
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* Media related to Onam