Onam is Kerala’s biggest festival. It falls in the Hindu month of Chingam (August-September) and marks the return to Earth of the legendary king Mahabali. It is the occasion for colourful festivities that spotlight all that’s best in Kerala culture. Although the origin of the festival lies in Hindu mythology, Onam is celebrated with enthousiams by all communities throughout Kerala. Visiting Kerala at this time of year is an absolute must.
Once upon a time, an asura (demon) king called Mahabali ruled justly and benevolently over Kerala. His subjects loved him. But he had one fault: he was vain and ambitious.
The devas (gods) in the heavens were jealous and feared he would become more powerful than them.
So they went to find Vishnu the preserver and asked him to limit the powers of King Mahabali. Vishnu took the shape of an avatar, a dwarf Brahmin called Vamana, and begged an audience with Mahabali. When the king saw the little Brahmin he boasted that he could grant him any wish since nothing was impossible for a great king like himself.
Vamana asked for as much land as he could cover in three paces. Mahabali agreed without hesitation, whereupon the dwarf grew to gigantic proportions. With his first step he covered the sky; with the next he covered hell. Belatedly realising that Vamana was Vishnu in person and that his third step would destroy the earth, Mahabali humbly offered him his head. Lord Vishnu put his foot on Mahabali’s head and pushed him down into Pataal, hell.
The Onam festival lasts ten days, with festivities that have no parallel anywhere else. Although the origin of the festival lies in Hindu mythology, Onam is celebrated by all faiths and social classes.
On the first day of Onam, called Atham, there are parades in many towns. Their purpose is to show the richness of Kerala’s culture.
The best example is to be found in Thripunithura near Kochi, where every form of Kerala classical and folk art parades along the streets in a procession called Athachamayam. There are Kathakali, Mohiniyattom and Theyyam dancers, Pandimelam and Panchavadyam percussion groups, and tableaux vivants representing mythological scenes from the Mahabaratha and Ramayana.
Thripunithura was the capital of the Kochi royal family and in the old days, Athachamayam was celebrated in honour of the king of Kochi.
The art of pookalam takes a lot of creativity and concentration and the resulting artworks are considered auspicious.
Traditionally, a pookalam consists of ten concentric circles, each representing a Hindu god, and the lines of the pattern, drawn in cow dung, are considered sacred and purifying.
It is linked to the Parthasarathy temple and takes place every year on Uthrattathy day in the month of Chingam in the Malayalam calendar (August-September), four days after Thiruvonam of the Onam festival…
In Thrissur, the Onam celebrations end in high style with hordes of portly human tigers thronging the streets, dancing to the hectic rhythm of the percussion. The Pulikali or “tiger dance”, deeply rooted in Kerala culture, is a unique event and a good-humoured, convivial moment of entertainment…