Monday, August 23, 2010

Onam Festival – The Harvest Festival of Kerala

Onam festival is one of those festivals of India, which is celebrated mainly in the Southern part of India. To be precise, Onam festival is celebrated in the Indian state of Kerala. It holds the status of being the biggest festival of Kerala. The first day and the last of this ten day long festival are the most important of all. The great popularity of Onam festival and the rich cultural presentation of Kerala during this time of the year made Onam the National Festival of Kerala since 1961. The very imagination of Onam festival in Kerala conjures up images of snake boat race, decorated elephants, folk songs and dances, elaborate feasts and flowers.

Kerala Onam dates
Onam festival is traditionally celebrated during the month of Malayali Chingam which is sometime within August to September. In this season, Kerala glows up in its magnificent best with pleasantly sunny weather, lush paddy grains and fruit and flower laden trees. The festival of Onam commemorates the homecoming of the legendary King Mahabali. The Onam carnival lasts for 10 days and within those beautiful gleeful days brings out the very best of the culture and tradition of Kerala. The Kerala 2010 Onam falls on 23rd August.

Legend of Onam festival
According the legendary tale of Onam, Mahabali was a demon king, under whose reign the people of his kingdom were always happy. However, his only shortcoming was his ego and to put an end to the mighty king’s ego and ever growing popularity, the Gods from the heaven above brought an end to his reign abruptly. However, because he was otherwise a good king and was immensely attached to the people of his kingdom, he was granted the boon to make annual visits to his people by the God. So, every year Onam is celebrated to mark the legendary king’s homecoming.

Onam rituals
The first day of the ten days Onam festival is called Atham and the last day is called Thiru Onam. Onam Atham is marked by people taking early bath and offering prayers in the temples. This day also begins the Onam Pookalam ritual. The preparations of Thiru Onam also start on the same day and the ritualistic breakfast for the following festival days becomes steamed bananas with fried pappadam. The ninth day of Onam festival is called Utradam, when the Tarawads or tenants/depends of a joint family and villagers offer Onam greetings and Onam gifts to the elder most in the family or Karanavar. This Onam gifts are called Onakazhcha. On the day of Thiru Onam, people wake up very early in the morning, clean the house and smear the courtyards with cow dungs. Then conic shapes called 'Trikkakara Appan' are formed and placed in the important parts of the house. This ritual again as another legend associated with it. Elaborate poojas and prayer are performed and Nivedyam is prepared to be offered to God, followed by merry shouts or 'Aarppu Vilikkukal'. On this day, the eldest member of the family or Karanavar offers Onam gifts or Onapudava to the younger members. This is followed by a grand lunch called Onam Onasadya feast. Houses are lit with lamps or diyas in the evening and Lord Ganapathy is worshiped.

Onam dances and folk performances
Men and women join in to perform special traditional Kerala dances to beautify the glorious Onam festival all the more. The popularly performed Onam dances are –

* Kaikotti kali
* Thumbi Thullal
* Kummatti kali
* Pulikali

Onam celebrations
The best part of Onam celebrations is the grand Onasadya feast. The Onam Onasadya feast is prepared on the 10th day of Onam festival. The Onasadya feast is a nine course meals which essentially comprises 10 to 13 different varieties of traditional Keralan dishes. The Onam Onasadya feast is served traditionally on banana leaves and people relish the food sitting on a floor laid mat. The enchanting feature of the Kerala Onam festival is Vallamkali. The Onam Vallamkali is a Snake Boat Race which is held on the Pampa River. During Kerala Onam, there also lives a strong tradition of playing games. These Onam games are collectively known as Onakalilal and are the next most popular event after the Onam boat race. These include rigorous men oriented sports like Onam Talappanthukali (ball game), Onam Ambeyyal (Archery) and Kutukutu. Then of course there are these combats called Onam Kayyankali and Onam Attakalam. Onam Pookalam is another attraction. Onam Pookalam is basically a floral mat intricately designed by the women to welcome King Mahabali.

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