Onam Festival in Kerala

Onam Festival in Kerala

As an Indian, I have a rich culture and tradition to follow with great enthusiasm .One of the many traditional Indian festivals which I celebrate with lots of enjoyment is Onam. This is the festival of joy, dance, food, and merriment. This festival is celebrated in honor of Demon king Mahabali, who according to Hindu mythology ushered in an era of happiness and prosperity during his rule of Kerala. Every year I await this festivity with glee, when everyone dear and near converge for this celebration. Fortunately, this year I could celebrate it with my family members at our hometown.

When do we celebrate Onam?

Onam is celebrated by each and everyone in the state of Kerala. Onam Festival falls during the Malayalam month of Chingam (Aug – Sep) and marks the homecoming of legendary King Mahabali.

What is the origin of Onam?

Onam or Thiruvonam originated as a joyous annual reminiscence of the golden rule of King Mahabali, a mythical king, who ruled Kerala a very long time ago. According to Hindu mythology , King Mahabali was a devout worshiper of Lord Vishnu. He was sincere, honest, just and a benevolent ruler.His popularity was proving to be a threat for Devas (Gods) and they became envious to him. Finally they approached Lord Vishnu for help , to which he agreed. Vishnu took the incarnation of a Brahmin named Vamana.

Haughty Mahabali who always thought who could give anything and everything to anybody condescended to the request of Vamana and allowed him to measure the three footsteps of land. Vamana covered the entire universe with his two footsteps. And to uphold his promise, the king had no other option but to offer his head as the third footstep. With the third step, Vamana (Lord Vishnu) pushed him down to the underworld (paathalam). Keralites celebrates this festival to remember the ruler and his noble deeds. It is a belief that once in a year Mahabali returns to his kingdom to see whether his people are happy and contented.

How is Onam celebrated?

People go crazy over this festival, buying new clothes, gathering flowers to make the floral carpet (pookalam), ten days of feasting, boat races, song, dance and merriment.

People dress up as King Mahabali in the Onam processions. This year, I got a chance to see three different Mahabalis.


What is Pookalam?

Pookalam is an intricate and colorful arrangement of flowers laid on the floor. The tradition of decorating Pookalam is extremely popular in Kerala and is followed as a ritual in every household during Onam. Pookalam’ consists of two words, ‘poov’ meaning flower and ‘kalam’ means color sketches on the ground. This pookalam is made along the ten days of Onam celebration and each the day the size of the floral design increases. The Pookalam on the tenth day would be the biggest and most beautiful of all the designs.

Dressing tips for Onam

With all these festivities and celebrations, smart people never forget to dress up in the traditional Kerala attire. According to the tradition, people buy new clothes during the Onam festival. For women, the usual dress-up consists of white or off-white saree with a golden border or a churidar of that color. We call it as ” Set and Mundu”.

There is a lot of experiments that can be done with the traditional Kerala saree. The trending designs in the shops are the ” Mural Designed Sarees” and ” Set and Mund” that has checks all over the body with beautiful golden colored border.

What is the typical color that you can choose to wear for Onam? White and off white with golden border. It is the traditional color that is worn during this occasion. I would suggest that this would be ideal and apt for this occasion.The color of the blouse can be any but green and red are one of the most attractive colors.

For this year’s Onam, I chose a Set and Mund which had green colored border design and hence I chose a green color short-sleeved blouse.

How to accessorize ?

Big earrings and jasmine flowers makes it complete. A couple of bangles would also look good.









What do men wear?

Men usually prefer to wear “Mundu” or Dhoti with golden border . The color of the shirt can always differ.

The much awaited part of the Onam celebration is the The Grand Meal, Onasadya. Onasadya is one of the most essential features of the festival. Meticulously prepared and even fastidiously plated, the entire arrangement exhibits a potpourri of different flavors – from sweet and salty to sour and spicy.We have the Onasadya in the plantain leaf and this consists of  papadams, sweet and sour pickles, tangy pachadis, dal preparations, spicy curries and of course, payasams and Ada pradhaman for dessert.


The onasadya comprises of a combination of semi dry and dry dishes mainly prepared in coconut oil. My onasadya included avial ( mix of all vegetables prepared with grounded coconut), pachadis (either pineapple or cucumber), sambhar , curry made of red pumpkin (erisherry), papadam, pickles, banana chips and delicious Palada Payasam.

One of the other interesting aspect of the Onasadya is the folding of the banana leaf.You should fold it completely from top to bottom and pull it towards yourself if you have had a happy meal. If the leaf is pushed further from oneself, it indicates that the meal was not satisfying. So did you all enjoy your Onasdya? 🙂

Onam is not complete without the “Thiruvathirakali”. All the ladies in the family performs this graceful dance. Thirvathirakali is performed by women to attain everlasting bliss in their married lives.This dance also has the clapping of hands and singing. Thiruvathirakali is also known as Kaikottikkali because of clapping on hands.

Here is the preview of the Thiruvathirakali performed in my ancestral house.

All this is done to recall the happiness in the daily life of the citizens who were ruled by King Mahabali.

This year, I had an amazing Onam celebration starting from making the Pookalam, relishing the feast and dancing to the Thiruvathirakali songs. I look forward to this amazing festival year after year. Happy Onam everyone 🙂


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