Onam is one of the most important festivals of Kerala. Kerala is never as beautiful as it is during the harvest festival of onam. People, during this time, are in high spirits and the very atmosphere is electric. You will find flowers every where and the whole state of Kerala is decked like a bride.
It is believed that long ago, the state was ruled by the king Mahabali. It is said that when he ruled, there was no lies or deceit. All people were equal and poverty was unheard of. He was banished to the underworlds by Lord Vishnu. Every year, during Onam, the king returns to visit his beloved subjects and the people of Kerala celebrate his visit with great gusto.
But not many know that Onam is, traditionally, a ten day long festival. This is probably due to the fact that over the years, the festivities have been toned down to four to six days. Still, there are many who celebrate all the ten days in all its glory.
There are rituals set for each day. The day Atham marks the beginning of thr festivities and it ends with Thiruvonam. These are the days that are considered the most significant. Butthe other days are significant too with rituals set to be performed on each day.
In this article, we shall take you through the ten days of Onam, introducing you to the significance and importance of each of them.
Atham is regarded as auspicious and holy, and marks the first day of Onam. People wake up early and after their daily ablutions, offer prayers in the local temple. People enjoy a breakfast that consists of steamed plantains and fried papads. A swing is installed and is decorated with flowers. Traditionally, the swings (Oonjal) are made with bamboo instead of ropes. These swings tend to go farther than the rope swings and therefore, are more fun. Kids play on these, sing songs of Onam (Onapattu) and make merry.
People start decorating their courtyards with colourful flower carpets (Pooklalam/ Athapoo). The flower carpet is used to welcome Mahabali. It is more or less simple on Atham as it is only the first day. The designs get more and more intricate with each day of Onam.
Athachamyam is a grand procession with elephants, artisans, musicians and dancers. It is a grand sight to behold. The Athachamyam at Thripunithura, Kochi, is of special significance.
Image Courtesy: Sivahari
Chithira is the second day of Onam celebrations. Though there are no rituals set aside for the day, people often pray to the almighty for prosperity and happiness. Girls add more varieties of flowers to the flower carpet and make the designs more creative.
Image Courtesy: Ranjithsiji
Chodi is the third day of the festivities. It is a fun filled day and the people often go shopping. Most shops have huge offers and discounts and people use this time to buy gifts for near and dear.
The fourth day, Vishakham is used to prepare for the following days of onam. The food items like pickles and papads are made this day. Pookalam competitions are held this day in many places and people participate in it with great interest.
It is the fifth day of Onam and is the mid point of all the gaiety. Vallamkali or the boat race is the main attraction of this day. Competitiveness is in the very air as the famous snake boats (chundan vallam) of Kerala vie with each other in the river Pamba at Aranmulla. The occasion attracts tourists from all over the world.
Each boat is decorated with care and is oared by hundreds of men. The men are dressed in the traditional ‘mundu’ and turban. Vanchipattu or the boat songs are the highlight of the race. The oars move to the rhythm of the song and are a spectacle to behold. It is said that if a single oarsman misses the rhythm, he may risk overturning the boat.
Day six of Onam doesn’t have many rituals set for it. Social gatherings and cultural programmes are organised all over Kerala and wherever Malayalis live. People who stay away from their homes, come back to celebrate the remaining days of Onam with their family.
Image Courtesy: Krish9
With only three days of Onam left, the seventh day is filled with hustle and bustle. People rush to do their last minute shopping. The time to meet ‘Onathappan’ is just around the corner.
Image Courtesy: Sivahari
The eight day sees the creation of idols from clay. The idols are small four sided pyramids and are called Ma or Madoru. They are also called Poorada Uttigal after the day of their creation. These are decorated with flowers and are worshipped as they represent Mahabali and his attendants.
It is the ninth day and it is the penultimate day of celebration. Full fledged celebrations are already in place. The flower carpets are at their creative best and elaborate feasts are prepared. The celebration is second only to the main day of Onam- Thiruvonam.
‘Onakazhcha’ was a tradition followed in the days of yore. The dependants of the Nair Tharavads ( Large joint families that shared a common kitchen) would bring fruits of their toil to the Karnavar ( the heads of the family) as gifts. In return, they would be treated to a scrumptious feast on Thiruvonam. Though the practice is fast fading away, Onakazhcha is still conducted in temples where the devotees offer gifts to their deity.
Its the final and most important day of Onam. This is the day Mahabali or Onathappan, as he is lovingly called, visits his land and people. You will find a malayali household abuzz with activity. The flower carpert would be the largest this day. Pooja is done with the Ma or Madoru representing Mahabali and Maha Vishnu.
An elaborate feast is prepared with 11- 13 dishes served on a banana leaf. The feast is strictly vegetarian and each dish has its specific position on the banana leaf. The eldest member of the family presents the new cloths and gifts to the family members. Dances, shows and games are organised. Crackers are burst to celebrate the festival.
Avittom and Chadayam are the 11th and 12th days of Onam and are celebrated in some parts of Kerala but most festivities end on Thiruvonam.
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