Festivals are an integral part of India’s rich cultural heritage and Onam is one of them. It is a harvest festival and signifies the homecoming of the mythical demon King Mahabali. During the month of Chingam, the first month of the calendar, Malayalis all over the world celebrate this festival. Onam falls in between August and September every year and is regarded as the National Festival of Kerala.
As stated above, Onam is the festival that celebrates the homecoming of Mahabali. He was a demon but was known for his generosity and kindness. In this festival, people make Pookkalam. It is a carpet made out of flowers which people put in front of their house to welcome "Mahabali". People perform several rituals- Puli Kali, Kaazhchakkula, Onappottan, and so on. These rituals are followed by a grand feast called "Sadhya".
People get together, wear new clothes and enjoy flavourful delicacies served on banana leaves along with a cup of Payasam during Onam. They perform traditional dance and music and play various games. On roads, people take out grand elephant processions. The 10 days of the festival are called Atham, Chithira, Vishakam, Anizham, Thriketa, Moolam, Pooradam, Uthradom, and Thiruvonam.
During this festival, people keep adding layers of flower to the Pookkalam every day. They also make several designs with flowers. People use their imagination and get creative with the Pookkalam. This is such a popular and interesting ritual that in some places, it is also held as a competition. On the tenth and the last day of the festival, that is, Thiruvonam, a lavish meal or Onam Sadya is cooked by every household and served on banana leaves. This is a nine-course meal comprising a minimum of five vegetable dishes including rasam, sambhar, mor curry, and thoram, etc.
Some families even cook nine to 13 dishes on this special occasion! And that is not it. There are restaurants, which serve their customers as many as 30 different dishes on Thiruvonam! Many unique games known as Onakalikal are played on this day too. A game of ball known as Talappanthukali is quite popular among men besides archery and Ambeyyal. Women, on the other hand, make Pookkalam and perform several traditional dances.
Another interesting part of Onam is the snake boat race. It is also known as the Vallamkali Boat Race where almost 100 boatmen compete with each other. It is not merely a race but a tradition where boats are decorated beautifully.
Onam is one of the most awaited events of the year for Malayalis. And why only Malayalis! Thanks to the wonderful mixing of cultures today, people from different communities and states too, where there are a lot of Malayali settlements, take part in the celebrations. They get dressed up in Malayali attire- the women in mundum neriyathum and men in kalli or kalli mundu and feast on delicious traditional dishes. This display of respect towards each other’s tradition adds to the gaiety and makes each and every festival of India a more special one.
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