Onam, a tantalizing traditional festival of Kerala

Happy Onam 2023 .indiatimes.com

Onam, celebrated on Chaturdashi Tithi of Shukla Paksha in the month of Shravana is the most fascinating and colorful festival of Kerala. A cultural extravaganza showcasing the rich heritage of Kerala, it is not merely a grand spectacular festival but also brings out the nuances of the rich native  art forms, culture, and dances of various kinds.that were born long ago on the laps of this coastal paradise. Participation in the festivities means you are on a short cultural and spiritual odyssey through the soul of God's own country. 


What is special about this festival is this exhilarating 10-day celebration is a joyous one for the Keralites cutting across castes creeds, etc. Onam falls  in the first month of Chingam as per the Malayalam calendar and people celebrate it by decorating their homes and nearby temples with rangoli made of flowers of various hues and patterns. The floral decorations (Pookolams) are vibrant artistic expressions  adorning  the courtyards of homes, a subtle way to show respect to Kerala's bountiful nature;  apart, they  enjoy a great and sumptuous  vegetarian feast on the final day of the festival. 

 Yet another gripping fact is unlike other mythological festivals in which  the Assura (demon) is depicted as violent, merciless  and ferocious and finally killed by the deity (by taking avatar) in Onam, the  mythological demon King Mahabali (grandson of Prahlada)  is portrayed as a good and humane Assura, a man well-known for his charitable disposition and integrity.  A great ruler of Kerala, his kingdom was so prosperous and  peaceful, during  his reign his subjects never experienced either pangs of hunger or pains of unjust rule.

The word “Onam” has roots in Sanskrit word “Shravanam”- one of the twenty-seven constellations. It also goes by other names like Thiru-Onam, Thiruvonam, and 'Shravan Mahotsav. Tradition has it that during the Onam festival, people usually wear traditional kasavu saree and mundu (dhoti).  Women wear white saree  with golden borders symbolic of nature's pure and unspoiled beauty. The golden borders highlight the sun's rays and the mesmerizing sunbaked lush green terrains of Kerala  crisscrossed by waterways and enchanting vista of coconut and palm groves 

As to the origin of Onam, it all began in Tamil Desam (now Tamil Nadu). Classical literary works in Tamil of Sangam period mention that onam was celebrated with great joy more than 2000 years ago at Madurai, once a center of classical tamil literature. 

 This year, Onam, an ancient Hindu harvest festival falls on  August 29, 2023 (it began on 20 August). The 10 day festivity that begins with Atham  culimintes on the day of Thiruvonam, the most auspicious one  as it marks the end of the Onam celebrations. 

Families prepare and enjoy Onasadya, the rich Onam feast (strictly vegetarian) along with friends and family members. The mouth-watering food with  tantalizing flavours and the way it is served is  testimony to Kerala’s  hospitality and their  culinary  skills.  Delightful to the eyes, an  array of dishes on the large banana leaf will never fail to tickle the nerves in the palate.  As per the Hindu Mythology, it commemorates the return of the legendary King Mahabali, and his annual homecoming to his land is entwined with a tapestry of interesting  mythological episodes  and myths. Celebrations of many  types are also held  in schools, universities, offices, and other places.

There are several cultural activities associated with this festival and some of them are Onakalikal (various games played during the festival), Vallamkali (boat race), Pulikali (a tableau with actors dressed as tigers and hunters), Rangoli competition and archery. Hindus across Kerala celebrate this annual Onam festival with religious fervor and devotion. 

The long-drawn festivities provide plenty of opportunities for the young  performers of Kerala's various native  classical  arts to bring out the best in them and the spell-binding spectators get immersed in the grandeur  and beauty of  Kathakali, Mohiniattam (the graceful dance form emphasizing feminine elegance Koodiyattam (recognized by the UNESCO) and other  intricate dance-drama forms that need lots of training and skill. These performances keep the old art forms alive and interestingly bring out the beauty through  captivating displays of artistry, and cogent narration of  tales of devotion, mythology that are intertwined with the native culture.