Being called as a harvest festival, Onam is the major annual festival for Malyali people in and outside Kerala which marks New Year for them. Carnival of Onam continues for 10 days in Kerala. These ten days are sequentially known as Atham, Chithira, Chodhi, Vishakam, Anizham, Thriketa, Moolam, Pooradam, Uthradom and Thiruvonam. Among these, the first and last days are specifically important.
The festival officially begins on the day on which Malayalam star Atham falls and it starts at a Vishnu temple called as Vamanamoorthy Thrikkakara temple located in Kochi. This temple is the main centre of Onam as it is an abode of beloved king Mahabali. The grand parades are held during this time with rising of the festival flag. The parades are so beautiful and more colourful which portrays the main elements, tradition and culture of Kerala.
The first day is called Atham. Whole family gets together on this auspicious day and they wear traditional dresses. Women specially wear Kerala Saree or Kasavu Saree on this day. They have vast range of events and other cultural activities are held during the next 9 days of the festival like boat races, cultural programs, sports competitions, dance events, martial arts, floral designs, prayers, shopping, donating time or food for charity and spending time with family over feasts.
Onam starts off every year with a parade called Athachamayam. Across the state, The Onam celebrations start with grand procession at at Thrippunithura near Kochi. The parade includes elephants marching; drum beats, colourfully dressed people all over, scenes from Mahabharata and Ramayana and much more. This procession will be from Tripunithura to Vamanamoorthy temple.
Flower arrangements during Onam are a tradition. Varieties of flowers from different places are used to make beautiful designs on the floor, particularly at entrances and temple premises. This traditional ritual of Pookalam starts on Atham day. The pookkalam on this day is called Athapoo. Statues of Mahabali and Vamana are installed at the entrance of each house and all over Kerala, Pookalam competitions are a common sight on Onam day.
Pulikali is a tiger dance, an event when few performers are painted like tigers and dance to the beats of instruments like Chenda and thakil. This folk art is mainly performed in the cultural district of Thrissur.
Vallamkali is nothing but a boat race held during Onam as a special event. Huge number of audience comes to watch this beautiful sport from many different places. This event is particularlu featured in the Pampa River. As a tribute to the traditional snake boat race, a similar snake boat race is also held by the Malayali diaspora in Singapore annually during Onam at the Jurong Lake.
Sadya is the traditional vegetarian meal with nine or more course served on banana leaf as a tradition. Special feast lunch on last day includes rice and a sweet at the end. The usual items in an Onam Sadhya include: banana chips, yam chips, Jaggery coated banana chips, mango pickle, lime pickle, tamarind & ginger chutney, Gourd in mildly spiced yoghurt, Pineapple in yoghurt, ash gourd with black beans in a coconut milk gravy, stir-fried vegetables with grated coconut, mixed vegetable gravy, mashed beans and pumpkin with coconut gravy, yogurt based curry, black chickpeas curry, sambar, rasam, spicy buttermilk, bananas, papad and of course boiled rice.
These are the main rituals and practices followed during Onam. So if you are not an inhabitant of Kerala, please do visit Kerala during Onam to experience this beautiful festival.