Onam or Thiruvonam is the harvesting festival of Kerala to celebrate the homecoming of the legendary and beloved King Mahabali and thanksgiving for the bountiful produce of rice. The festivities continue for ten days and generally correspond with the English months of August – September, and Chingam – the first month of Malayalam Kollavarsham calendar making Onam the Malayali New Year. It is the National festival of Kerala and and is cekebrated with great enthusiasm and festivities across the state.
As per the Vishnupurana, Kerala was once ruled by the legendary demon King Mahabali. He ruled with fairness and his kingdom flourished, his subjects lived in complete harmony and happiness under his rule. The Gods, however, were afraid of the daityaraj as he had risen to power and taken over the three worlds. They pleaded Lord Vishnu to help them suppress Mahabali. Lord Vishnu took the form of Vamana – a dwarf brahmin and reached the place where Mahabali was performing a ‘yajna.’ It is a general practice to give alms to brahmins during the yajna. Vamana asked for land equivalent to 3 paces.
Once asuraraj promised the alms, Vamana grew larger and larger. With the first step, he took over the Earth, with the second step, he claimed heaven. By then, Mahabali knew it was Lord Vishnu as Vamana, who had appeared as Lord Narasimha for his grandfather Bhakt Prahlada. The brahmin claimed the third step of the promised land. Mahabali offered his head, and as soon as Vamana kept his foot over the King’s head, he was pushed to the underworld or paatal lok forever.
It is said that once a year, Mahabali returns to his kingdom to check on his subjects. Onam is said to be the day of his homecoming, and the beloved King is welcomed with several celebrations and athapookalam. The word Onam originates from the Sanskrit word Shravanam, one of the 27 nakshatras or constellations during which Lord Vishnu sent Mahabali to the nether world.
Another story is related to Lord Parshurama – an avatar of Lord Vishnu for creating Kerala on this day and settling Naamboodri brahmins here.
Onam Celebration and Preparation
Onam celebrations are a reflection of the vivid culture of India. The ten days of the Onam festival are Atham, Chitira, Chodhi, Vishakam, Anizham, Thriketa, Moolam, Pooradam, Uthradom, and Thiruvonam. The homes and temples are cleaned, and the doorways are adorned with detailed ‘Onam pookalam,’ a vibrant floral carpet rangoli with lamps lit in the center of it along with the clay statues of Mahabali and Vamana with an umbrella over it. It starts with a small floral arrangement of day one with yellow flowers and increases with each day. By the last day, there are ‘dasaphulam’ or ten varieties of flowers in it. There are competitions held across different places to recognize the best pookalam.
A lavish meal ‘onasadya’ comprising of various delicacies like avail, sambar, rasam, Kerala matta rice, sarkaraveratti, poppadom, injipuli, mezhukupuratti, kaalan, payasam, pachadi, moru, puliseri, olan koothu, pazham, thoran and more are prepared and served on a banana leaf on the Thiruvonam day. There are magnificent processions or ‘atthachamayam’ with decorated elephants and carnival floats.
One can witness bright fireworks, grand ‘vallam kali’ or snake boat races along the Pampa River, Kathakali performances, onathappan or worship, and traditional games and activities like onakalikal, onathallu or martial arts, and kumattikali or the mask dance.
Other activities that happen as part of the Onam celebrations include talappanthukali, ambeyyal, onavillu or the music, kaazhchakkula, Onam kali, tug of war, ox races or maramadimatsaram, the tiger dance or the famed ‘puli kali’ or ‘kaduvakali,’ kaikottikkali, thumbi thullai – the women’s dance, theyyam – worship dance, cheda and thakil music, daanam or charity.
The last day is Avvittom, when Mahabali returns after his trip to his kingdom. The clay figurines are immersed in water, and only after this, the Onam pookalam is cleaned. People exchange Onam wishes and gifts with loved ones. Women get dressed in onapottan or the traditional white cotton or silk kasavu kara or set mundu and adorn malli flowers in their hair while men flaunt kaili mundu.
Festivities across Kerala
Onam is the state festival of ‘God’s own country’ Kerala. It is celebrated with great enthusiasm across the state. Best places to enjoy the festivities are Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi, Thrissur, Trivandrum, Cheruthurthy, Palakkad, Alleppey, Ernakulam, Kannur, Thripunnithura, and more. The popular temples across Kerala like Anant Padmanabhswamy Temple, Guruvayur Devosthanam, Vamanamoorthy Thrikkakara Temple, Parthasarthy Aranmula, Ambalapuzha, and others have splendid celebrations.
The temple courtyards are adorned with colorful Onam pookalam designs, and there are detailed poojas performed along with the lighting of many lamps and other traditions. The floats and tableaux are part of a vibrant parade depicting the story of Mahabali and Vamana or stories from Ramayana, Mahabharata, and the beauty of Kerala.
Onam 2021 dates are on the 12th of August to the 23rd of August. Thiruvonam falls on the 21st of August. It is listed as an optional holiday across the country. However, in Kerala, it is a public holiday for four days starting Uthradom or the Onam eve. The schools and government offices will be observing a holiday.
redBus offers travel options for you to enjoy the Onam 2021 festivities to the fullest. You can book your travel tickets on redBus’ easy to use mobile app or user-friendly website. Special buses during the festive season take care of increasing demand for seasonal travel. Find lucrative discounts and offers to book your tickets and travel in comfort with redBus this Onam 2021. Team redBus wishes you and your loved ones a happy Onam and great festivities.
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