Kerala is getting ready to celebrate and rejoice the State Festival Onam in the month of Chingam (Bhadrapada), which falls usually at the end of August or beginning of September.This year Onam is celebrated on the 23rd of August 2010.
The ten-day harvest festival Onam is starting with “Atham” and it is the greatest festival of Kerala. After a bounteous harvest, Onam is the time for the farmers to celebrate the bounties of nature and make merry. A unique feature of this festival is that it is celebrated unitedly by all Keralites without caste or religious differences. Every Malayali wherever he or she may be in the world celebrates Onam.
According to legends, Lord Mahavishnu visited King Mahabali, the benevolent ruler of Kerala, in disguise as Vamana, a dwarf Brahmin, requesting for three feet of space to live. Without realising his intention, the king agreed to his request. Suddenly Vamana began to grow and he covered the whole earth by one foot and covered the sky with other foot. When Vamana asked for the third foot, Mahabali had no other go, but to show his head. Vamana kept his third foot on the King’s head and the King was pushed down under the earth. Realising the true form of Vamana, Mahabali requested the lord to permit him to visit his people once a year. His request was granted and Onam is the yearly celebration of welcoming the benevolent ruler.
As a symbolic gesture to welcome ‘King Mahabali’ attractive pookalam (a floral decoration) with a clay mount in the centre, is laid in front of every home starting on Atham day, which will continue till Thiruvonam day. The pookalam is usually circular in shape and multi-coloured. Making a Pookalam is a colourful and joyous event for the young girls.
A sumptuous meal on plantain leaf is served in every house. The main items for the sadhya include sambar, kalan, olan, pachadi, aviyal, elassery, thoran, puliyenji, naranga curry, papad, banana chips, sweet banana chips, and steamed Kerala banana pieces and the traditional payasam.
In the evenings, girls, traditionally dressed sing onapaattu, perform traditional folk dances like Thiruvathirakkali, Kaikottikali and Thumbithullal, dancing around the traditional brass lamps called Nilavilakku. Men do the Pulikkali. They paint their bodies with leopards spots and dance in front of another group of men dressed like hunters. The children play overwhelmed at the new swing tied between trees in addition to many traditional games during this festival. Boat races and carnivals enrich the festival. At Trichur (Thrissur), caparisoned elephants take part in a spectacular procession.