The 10 days of Onam

  • 04/03/2019
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  • Admin

Onam, the harvest festival in the south Indian state of Kerala, is one of the largest and most important festivals in the country. The event lasts ten days, with the first day ‘Antham’, and the tenth day ‘Thiruvonam’, holding the most importance; but to really understand this ancient festival, you’ll need to know the accompanying legend.

As the tale goes, during the reign of a benevolent demon king named Mahabali, the state of Kerala enjoyed a golden era. Depending on what you read, Mahabali went on to be a ruler of both heaven and earth, revered and worshipped by his subjects. However, as often is the way, success also brings jealousy amongst peers, and unfortunately for Mahabali he had become peers with the gods. These Hindu gods felt challenged by Mahabali, and asked Vishnu for assistance. Vishnu agreed, and because Mahabali had grown egotistical in his rise to the top, Vishnu was able to trick him into giving up all he had achieved. However due to the prosperity and success of his reign, Vishnu granted him rule over the underworld, but more importantly -for this blog at least- permission to once a year visit his subjects with whom he was so attached. It is the visit of Mahabali that is celebrated as Onam every year.   

As previously mentioned there are 10 days to the Onam Festival, so let’s have a look at what happens on each day:

1. Antham is the first day of the celebrations. It’s believed that this is when King Mahabali starts his preparations for his journey to Kerala. There used to be a military procession, but this was replaced after Kerala gained its state independence with a procession called Athachamyam, which involves music, dancing, elephant processions and folk art presentations. This first day has become aggressively promoted as a tourist event because of this explosion of Indian culture. Pookkalam, the laying of floral carpets, begins on this day with the base layer of yellow.

2. The Pookkalam designs become a little more intricate on Chithira, and the locals start cleaning their houses in preparation for the final day.

3. On Chodhi the Pookkalam grows even further with the addition of 4 or 5 different flowers. Onam is associated with gifts, so from this day onwards people start buying clothes and jewellery.

4. Vishakam marks the day of some Onam-related competitions such as the individual Pookkalam competition.

5. Anizham has more significance than most of the other days in Onam as it kicks off the snake boat race or “The Great Vallamkali” in many parts of Kerala.

6. By the sixth day of Onam, Thriketa, the public anticipation starts to build. Most of the schools and offices are granted holiday from this day to the last of the festival, so many natives go back to their hometowns to celebrate with their loved ones. The design of the Pookkalam will be very large by this point.

7. Moomlam marks the 7th day of Onam, traditional Onam lunch feasts start to take place. Government celebrations also begin, with fireworks and illuminations across the main cities.

8. Pooradam starts off with the major traditional ritual where statues of Mahabali and Vamana (the form Vishnu used to deceive Mahabali) are taken around the house, and later placed in a Pookkalam.

9. Uthradom is the 9th day of Onam, and is celebrated in a similar way to Christmas Eve, and is known as the ‘First Onam’ because it marks the day that King Mahabali travels to Kerala. There are celebrations in all households, the lunch on Uthradom is generally quite grandiose, and following the lunch preparations for the feast for the final day of celebrations take place.

10. Thiruvonam is the tenth and final day of Onam, and the culmination of all the preparation that has gone before it.  The day is also known as ‘Second Onam’ and marks the return of Mahabali where he shall remain for the next few days blessing the inhabitants. Special prayers and masses are organised. In the major cities of Kerala there are extravagant displays of fireworks and light displays. In Thrikkakara temple, a ‘mega’ feast is produced, and games and dances are performed around the state of Kerala.

There are more days to the celebrations, such as the day Mahabali returns to the underworld, but these 10 days are the most significant. Onam is a festival of culture unlike anywhere else in the world, with themes of generosity and togetherness; this coupled with making the state as beautiful as possible make Onam an amazing place to be, and we’ve certainly put it on our wish list.















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