Onam is the most popular harvest festival celebrated with pomp and grandeur by the Malayalee communities of Kerala to express their gratitude for the home coming of their benevolent king Mahabali and in memory of the happy days of his rule.
According to a popular legend, Vaman, one of the incarnations of Lord Vishnu, asked as much land as he could cover in three steps from king Mahabali. Mahabali generously agreed to his request. Later, Vaman, in two giant strides, covered the earth and heaven and when asked where could he place his third step? Mahabali offered his head for Vaman to place his third step. Vaman then pushed Mahabali to the netherworld and granted him permission to go to his beloved kingdom of Kerala only once a year. Onam is celebrated to welcome Mahabali's home coming.
The rich cultural heritage of Kerala comes out in its best form and spirit during the ten day long festival. The most impressive part of Onam celebration is the grand feast called Onasadya, prepared on Thiruonam. It is a nine course meal consisting of 11 to 13 essential dishes. Onasadya is served on banana leaves and people sit on a mat laid on the floor to have the meal.
Another enchanting feature of Onam is Vallamkali, the Snake Boat Race, held on the river Pampa. It is a colourful sight to watch the decorated boat oared by hundreds of boatmen amidst chanting of songs and cheering by spectators.
There is also a tradition to play games, collectively called Onakalikal, on Onam. Men go in for rigorous sports like Talappanthukali (played with a ball), Ambeyyal (Archery), Kutukutu and combats called Kayyankali and Attakalam. Women indulge in cultural activities. They make intricately designed flower mats called, Pookalam in the front courtyard of the house to welcome King Mahabali. Kaikotti kali and Thumbi Thullal are two graceful dances performed by women on Onam. Folk performances like Kummatti kali and Pulikali add to the zest of celebrations.
In Kerala, it marks the end of the monsoon. The harvest has been reaped and granaries are full. At Shoranur, Kathakali dancers tell stories from the Ramayana and Mahabharata through dance movements.
In Kottayam, boat races are held and the entire population of Kerala get together to celebrate the festival.
In other words, Onam in Kerala is like the Mardi Gras in New Orleans or the Carnival in Rio - a whole lotta fun! One look at these pics and you will agree....
Kerela is truly God's own country!
Images via flickr photo sharing!