In June, the monsoon breaks in Kerala, and when it nears its end, it is time for the people of Kerala to celebrate the harvest festival of Onam. Onam is the most important festival that is celebrated in this state that lies at the bottom of the Indian map. If legends are to be believed, Onam celebrates the return of King Mahabali, who once ruled the land.
The festival is held in the Malayalam month of Chingam (August-September), and it goes on for 10 days. During Onam, families, and friends come together and have a lot of fun. People of all faiths celebrate Onam. Onam is also called the festival of flowers as colorful floral rangolis are made for all 10 days. Onam 2020 will begin on August 22 and end on September 2.
Many interesting activities mark Onam celebrations. Let’s see ten of them.
On all 10 days of the festival, family members in a household gather flowers of different hues from places nearby and create beautiful flower arrangements called Pookalam in front of the house. Both young and old participate enthusiastically in the making of the Pookalalm, and they sing traditional songs as they engage in this activity. Schools, colleges, and workplaces also hold Pookalam competitions, and prizes are given to the best arrangements.
Onathappan is an idol made of clay or mud, and it represents Mahabali or Vamana. It is also called Thrikkakara Appan. It is a four-faced pyramid-like structure having a flat top, and it is placed on a bed of rice flour and adorned with flowers. Poojas are also performed to welcome Mahabali. The Onathappan is also placed in the center of the Pookalam. The four faces of the idol represent the four stages of a person’s life.
3.Puli Kali(Tiger Dance)
This is a folk dance performed during Onam. The word ‘Puli’ means ‘tiger’. ‘Kali’ means ‘dance’. The performers who are men paint their bodies like that of a tiger or leopard and fix a tail to their backs. Another group of men will be dressed like hunters, and they will have dummy guns. The performance mimics a tiger hunt. The performers will be accompanied by drummers and cheering crowds.
4.Vadam Vali( Tug Of War)
Vadam Vali is the Malayalam name for Tug of war. ‘Vadam’ means ‘rope’ and ‘vali’ means ‘to pull’.It is held as part of the Onam celebrations. During the game, two teams pull opposite ends of a rope until one team succeeds in dragging the other team over the central line.
Vallam Kali or boat race is a much-awaited event during Onam. Many people from abroad, too, come to see it as it is a huge tourist attraction. The race features snake boats that compete for the winner’s trophy in a nail-biting performance on the beautiful backwaters of Kerala. The boatmen sing the Valla Pattu or boat song as the crowds lustily cheer the teams in the race. The spectators have their favorite teams, too. The Aranmula Boat race is the most renowned of these boat races during the Onam season. So is the Nehru boat race.
6.Kummatti Kali( Mask Dance)
Kummatti Kali is a kind of dance in which the dancers sport colorful masks made of wood and wear dresses made of grass. They go to people’s homes and dance, whereupon, the people in the household give them small gifts like rice, jaggery, etc. For children, this dance form is very entertaining. It is common in Thrissur district, and to see it in its pure form, one should visit the Bhadrakali temple in Palakkad.
7.Onathallu( Martial Arts)
Onathallu, also called Avittathallu, is a kind of traditional martial arts performance. It is performed by the men of the Nair community, a warrior clan, and showcases the traditional warfare techniques that were in vogue many centuries ago. The men pair up and engage in physical combat, uttering loud war cries as if they are in an actual battlefield.. The elders supervise the entire performance. The event is held during the Avittam nakshatra day of Onam.
Thumbi Thullal is a traditional folk dance that is performed by Kerala women during the Onam celebrations. Women wear traditional Kerala sarees called ‘Kasavu Mundu’, gold jewelry, and jasmine flowers for the dance. They sit in a circle, and the main singer sits in the middle. The main singer begins singing, and this is followed by the other singers, clapping rhythmically in between.
This is also a traditional dance, performed by women dressed in the traditional kasavu mundu. They dance in a circle with a lamp placed in the center. It is also called Kaikottikali, as there is a lot of handclapping during the dance. Young as well as old women take part in this graceful dance.
Ona Sadya is a royal repast worthy of kings that is specially prepared for Onam. Ona Sadya is usually made on the day of Thiruvonam. Freshly harvested rice and seasonal vegetables are used to prepare the Sadya, which is served on tender plantain leaves. These are usually kept on the floor, and extended families as well as friends often come together to prepare and partake of the Sadya. It includes several dishes like kai upperi, sharkara upperi, achar, pappadam, parippu, sambar, rasam, aviyal, thoran, olan, kalan, erisseri, pachadi, inji curry, and three types of payasam. The Ona Sadya is prepared to show King Mahabali that they are leading a happy and prosperous life, the way his subjects had lived during his rule.
Onam is not a festival, it is a feast for the senses. With so many ways to celebrate Onam, it is little wonder that the people of Kerala look forward to it so eagerly!