Onam Festival

Onam is a most famous and cultural Hindu festival and celebrated every year as a state festival of Kerala by the people of southern state (Kerala, India). It is a festival when people enjoy 4 days State holidays (starts on Onam Eve called as Uthradom and ends on 3rd Onam Day). It is celebrated with big enthusiasm and major celebrations in the cities like Kottayam, Kochi, Thrissur, Trivandrum, etc. This festival is the indication of Malayalam culture and celebrated as a tourism week by the state government of Kerala.


It is celebrated to commemorate the Vamana avatara of Lord Vishnu and falls every year in the month of Malayalam (called Chingam, August or September). Another reason behind celebrating it is the homecoming of mythical King Mahabali (king of Malayalees). It is the harvest festival considered as the reminiscent of agrarian past of Kerala. It is a ten days long National Festival of Kerala starts on Atham (first day) and ends on Thiruonam (tenth day). People of Kerala show the rich culture of their state while celebrating the carnival with the activities like arranging feasts, elegant dances, folk songs, energetic games, elephants, boats and flowers, etc. A big crowd of domestic and foreign tourists visit the state of Kerala and celebrate Onam.

The word Onam was originated from a Sanskrit word (Shravanam, one of the 27 Nakshatars). The celebration of Thiruvonam in the South India is believed as the Nakshatra of Lord Vishnu (who forced the King Mahabali to come under his foot).

Onam Festival 2017

Onam festival 2017 would be celebrated by the people of Kerala state on 4th of September, at Monday.

History and Legends of Onam Festival

Onam festival is celebrated by the people of Kerala in the belief of homecoming of the greatest King Mahabali. He was the grandson of Prahlad (son of Hiranyakashyap who was killed by the Lord Vishnu in his Narasimha Avatara) and considered as the great king of Kerala. He ruled underworld by getting order of Lord Vishnu and visited his subjects one time in a year which is now celebrate as Onam. Mahabali was a great devotee of Lord Vishnu from his childhood because of his grandfather.

Once he decided to conquer all the three loka under the guidance of his guru Shukracharya and became a big threat to the Devas. In order to save the reign of devas, Lord Vishnu approached him to teach that almighty is still above him. He believed that he has become a most powerful demon king and a only ruler of all the three worlds. Once he was performing Aswamedha Yagam or Viswajith Yagam on the bank of Narmada River in Brugacham to be more powerful and get weapons to defeat Indra in order to win three worlds. He declared that he can give anything to anyone during this Yagam.

In order to take advantage of his declaration, Lord Vishnu reached to him in his Vamana avatar. He warm welcomed the little Brahman boy and said to ask anything however, Vamana smiled and said that: “I do not ask for anything great. All I need is land equivalent to three paces of my feet”. He was warned by his guru, Shukracharya that this Brahmin boy is not an ordinary Brahmin however he simply laughed and allowed Vamana to measure three paces of land. By measuring three paces of land Lord Vishnu measured whole earth in one step, heaven in the second step and there was no land left for third step. Then Mahabali requested to put final step on his head to get third step of land. In this way Lord Vishnu became successful in saving the reign of devas and sending demon back to the underworld. The place where Vamana placed his foot became famous as the village of Thrikkakara and now as the centre of Onam festival celebration.

King Mahabali was booned by the Lord Vishnu for his devotion and granted to rule over the underworld as well as hold position of Indra for one Manvantara. He was also granted permission by the Lord to visit his subjects once a year. So, people of Kerala celebrate this festival to commemorate King Mahabali.

Another belief of celebrating this festival is, Parasurama (incarnation of Lord Vishnu) who have founded the Kerala. It is believed that he saved Kerala from sea-bed by throwing his battle-axe which was travelled from Gokarnam to Kanyakumari (North to South).

Rituals of Onam Festival

According to the Malayalam Calendar, Onam festival falls in the first month of Chingam. Onam celebration starts on the first day of Malayalam new year and run for next ten days. Lots of ritual, traditional and cultural activities takes place by the people of all over the state of Kerala. Ten days long harvest festival is celebrated with Royal Parade (showing Kerala culture with more than 50 floats and 100 tableaus) on Atham Day in Thripunithara. Vamanamoorthy Thrikkakara temple in the Kochi City becomes the centre of celebration (considered as ancient capital of Mahabali and currently dedicated to Lord Vamana).

People wear new clothes while celebrating the Onam festival to make a festive mood and consider the prosperous and truthful life of the people during the time of Mahabali reign. The importance of having new clothes is making heart clean new by removing all the bad thoughts and feelings. A ten days long festival starts on the first day called Atham and ends on tenth day called Thiru-Onam (or Thiruvonam). Some of the great rituals which people perform while celebrating the festival are:

  • They decorate a floral carpet (called as Onapookkalam) made up several varieties of flowers. People in other regions make Rangoli of colourful powders. They make a small pandal and decorate with garlands.
  • Pookalam made on the first day (Atham day) is called as Atthapookalams. Earlier it was prepared using 10-flowers (called as Dashapushpam) however nowadays varieties of colourful flowers are used.
  • They make square pyramids using clay which represents Mahabali and Vamana in the dung-plastered courtyard along with the Pookalam. Such beautiful floral designs represent the earlier cultural and social aspects of the life in Kerala. There is huge Pookalam competitions start all over the Kerala from the first day till thiruvonam.
  • Onam sadya (also called feast) is another important ritual performed on Thiruvonam. It contains almost 26 dishes (including banana chips, Papadum, vegetable curries like Thoran, Avial, Mezhukkupuratti, Olan, Sambhar, Kaalan, Dal with ghee, Erisheri, buttermilk, Rasam, Pickles, chutney with grated coconut, Payasam, etc) and served on plantain leaves to the people. There is a great importance of feast and every people must eat Onam lunch even after being in any problem. A common saying is said about Onam feast that “Kaanam Vittum Onam Unnanam” means “One must have the Onam lunch even one is forced to sell his property”.

Rituals of 10 Days Onam Festival

Onam festival is a ten days long traditional festival celebrated every year by performing various rituals and activities. There is a custom that Onapottan wearing traditional costume visits every house on the festival in order to give blessings to people. Following are the days of festival:

  • Atham: It is the first day of Onam festival when celebration starts in the Malayalam month of Chingam at Thrikkakara temple. It is considered that, this day king Mahabali would to Kerala from his Patala Loka. A grand procession takes place all through the state. Rituals like dance, elephant processions, folk art presentations, music, etc takes place. At this day, statue of both, Mahabali and Vamana is installed. A single layer pookkalam is prepared using single yellow flower.
  • Chithira: It is the second day of celebration and at this day second layer gets added to the pookkalam designed using 2 different colours. People do cleaning of the houses and get prepared for the Thiruvonam day.
  • Chodhi: It is the third day of festival and another third layer gets added to the pookalam using 4 to 5 different flowers. At this day people do shopping activities like buying new clothes, jewellery, etc to gift each other.
  • Vishakam: It is the fourth day of festival when variety of Onam-related competitions starts such as Pookalam competitions etc. At this people add new layer to the pookalam.
  • Anizham: It is the fifth day of festival when people prepare a snake boat to start race in the Aranmula Uthrattathi Vallamkali. Another new layer is added to the pookalam.
  • Thriketa: It is the sixth day of festival when people enjoy getting holidays from this day onwards. They get ready to fully enjoy the festival with the family and dear ones. Till this day pookalam become very large using 5 to 6 new flowers types.
  • Moolam: It is the seventh day of Onam festival when small level of traditional Sadya feast starts at many places especially in temples. People perform Puli Kali (a masked leopard dance) and Kaikotti Kali (traditional dance forms) including some fireworks at this day.
  • Pooradam: It is the eight day of festival when people start making statues of Mahabali and Vamana to install in centre of pookkalam and take in the procession. Till this day pookkalam design becomes bigger and complex.
  • Uthradom: It is the ninth day of festival and considered as the most auspicious day for purchasing fresh vegetables and fruits. It is called as the First Onam and believed that King comes at this day to Kerala.
  • Thiruvonam: It is the tenth day of festival and called as final day of Onam celebration (also known as Thiru-Onam, a sacred Onam day or Second Onam). It is believed that, at this day Mahabali was sent to Patala Loka by the Vamana.

How Onam Festival is Celebrated

People of the Kerala state wait for the festival very enthusiastically and gets involved in the rituals and activities on the occurrence of festival from the early morning. People start cleaning their houses and apply rice flour batter to the main entry gate of the house and prepare Pookkalam in order to traditionally welcome their king. They take early morning bath, wear new clothes, get prepared for the grand celebration and start distributing alms to the needy people. Females of the family do shopping and head female of the family represent new clothes to every member of her family. This festival is secular in nature as celebration preparations takes place in the temples, churches and mosques by organising special prayers and activities in the huge gathering of devotees.

All the cities of Kerala state gets decorated with the lights and fabulous displays of fireworks. People enjoy in preparing delicious Onam Sadya feasts on the day of festival and playing various traditional Onam games, songs and dances whole day. Festival celebration ends on Thiruvonam however people engage in celebration two or three days later. On the third Onam celebration (Avvittom) people prepare Mahabali’s ascension to heavens and place Onathappan statue to the centre of every Pookalam and after all they immerse it in the nearby river or sea. People enjoy the ritual of great Pulikali in the city of Thrissur during which a parade takes place by the men dressed as lions and tigers.

In the city of Thiruvananthapuram a grand celebration with dance takes place on the fourth day of Onam (Chatayam) by the officiasl of government. People indulge in their Traditional dance forms (Thiruvathirakali, Pulikali or Kaduvakali, Kathakali, Kummattikali, Thumbi Thullal, Kaikottikali or clap dance, etc) throughout the celebration. Especially women of the houses perform Thiruvathirakali dance by making a circle around lamp. Kummattikali is a dance performed by wearing colourful-mask and surrounded by the caparisoned elephants.

Vallamkali, which is a famous snake boat race during the festival celebration, performed by the men and women through the water far and near. Some of the most famous boat races are Aranmula Uthrattadhi Boat Race and Nehru Trophy Boat Race. Onakkodi is another ritual in which people buy and wear new clothes especially to celebrate the occasion of Onam. At the end of celebration, people make a heap of palmyra tree and its leaves (in front of temples) surrounding with other woods and lit that to get burned to ashes. It indicates the return of King Mahabali to the Patala loka after sacrifice.

People of the rural areas also enjoy swinging from high branches of the tree and sing Onappaatt ritual song. Together with Pookalam competition, other competitions such as Ox races (Maramadimatsaram), food eating competitions, Uriyady (breaking of pots), etc also takes place. Elephant procession (decorated with ornaments and flowers) and folk dances (especially performed by the women together with songs praising the King Mahabali) are another attraction of the festival celebration. This festival season brings a huge opportunity for the weavers, potters and other businessmen as people demand more attractive and creative products all through the season.

Significance of Onam Festival

Onam festival is being celebrated from the ancient time which still survives in the modern times. People of Kerala celebrate this festival as the rice harvest festival and the Festival of Rain Flowers every year in the month of Chingam to commemorate the demon king Mahabali’s annual visit from Patala Loka. It is believed that king was so devoted and attached to his kingdom so he got permission by the Lord Vishnu to visit his kingdom once annually. Onam festival is celebrated annually with lots of joy and enthusiasm to honour the King Mahabali. The Hindu deity Lord Vishnu (Vamana also called Onatthappan) is also worshipped. Thiruvonam day is the birthday of Sri Padmanabhan (Deity of Thiruvananthapuram) and most important day of Onam.