Onam, also known as the Festival of Rain Flowers, has very ancient origins. Onam is a harvest festival, but what makes it unique is that it is a secular festival celebrated by people of all religions and castes. Why am I so ecstatic to be writing a blog about this festival? As you journey along with me to the end of the blog, I am sure you will feel the same way.
Onam is one of the few celebrations that incorporate such a wide range of cultural elements such as Vallam Kali (boat race), Pulikkali (Tiger Dance), Pookkalam (flower arrangements done during Onam), Thumbi Thullal (folk art form), and Onavillu (ceremonial bow).
Blending the colors of petals to form floral art is a religious art that requires a lot of patience and creativity. Pookalam is like Rangoli, which is decorated in other parts of India.
On the first day, only one type of flower is used to make the floral carpet. And on the second day, two different flowers are used, and so on. Until on the final day, ten different flowers are used to make an elaborate floral decoration. It is a grand celebration that marks the start of the fest. They hold Pookalam competitions throughout Kerala.
The genuine spirit of the Onam festival
And I’d like to bring up an art form that comes to mind when I hear the word “Onam.” Kumatti kali. When I was a kid, the dancers seemed both frightening and beautiful. Artists perform the “Mask dance” while wearing a specially crafted mask made of a jack fruit tree or Coral tree. These artists then move to various homes and receive gifts from them. The major draw is the masks, which depict mythical characters and hunters’ faces. The instrument used to play music for this act is the Onavillu(ceremonial bow).
Kerala women perform a classy and aesthetic dance routine known as Kaikottikali or Thiruvathirakali. It is an extremely popular folk dance. Kaikotti Kali translates as “play/dance by clapping hands.”
Pulikali, on the other hand, is a dance performed by men disguised as tigers and cheetahs. Pulikalikkar are performers who dress up as a Puli or cheetah and dance. The Pulikottu, or the beats that usually accompany the dance, send shockwaves through Thrissur during Onam. Except for the Pulikalli in Thrissur, no other place has this unique rhythm. With bells attached to their waists, the Pulikalikkars dance to the beat of this uniquely engaging asura(demonic) rhythm.
These art forms are one of the most important events that have long brought out the genuine spirit of the Onam festival. The uniqueness that this dance form provides always fascinates and amuses people. The famous Vallamkali or snake boat race is held in various locations, with hundreds of boats decorated and at least seven drums competing. Events like this are becoming increasingly rare.
Onam: Welcoming King Mahabali
The festival commemorates the return of King Mahabali, whom Malayalees regard as their King. During his reign, Mahabali was greatly admired by the people of Kerala for his generosity. Mahabali asked for one last wish, which was to visit his people every year. And that day marks the ceremony in Kerala. That special time spent with family and friends during the festival of colors, whether it’s the feast or the floral rangolis, and Onam sadhya. It demonstrates their devotion to the King.
A typical Onam festival
A festival would not be complete without a feast and gifts, would it? Nonetheless, Onam feasts stand out in their own right. Onam sadya is a very elaborate feast. This is typically a large feast served on banana leaves that includes rice and at least four different dishes. Pickles and papadam, Payasam, a sweet dish made of milk, sugar, and other traditional Indian savories, is usually served for dessert. The most important aspect of Onam is the onakkodi (wearing new clothes and gifting garments to loved ones), or the new clothes worn on this day. Silver coins, gold jewelry, clothing, home appliances, gadgets, and other items are among the most popular gifts exchanged during these festivals.
The women of the household dress in a white and gold saree known as the Kasuva saree. On the ninth day of Onam, family members give the eldest member of the family vegetables, gifts, and coconut, among other things. On the final day, various activities are held in temples and religious sites. On Thiru Onam, the last day of Onam, a swinging ceremony is performed in which a swing is slung on a high branch of a tree. Women decorate the swing with flowers and ride it while singing melodious songs.
They celebrated Onam throughout the state. People travel from all over the world to witness spectacular events. People from different parts of the world celebrate Onam with similar enthusiasm and vigor as they feel a spiritual connection with the festival. The celebrations though vary. This is because each region also has a different way of celebrating the festival. Regardless it is a secular festival celebrated by people of all religions and castes.