It is that time of the year when the festive caravan moves to the Malabar coast. Onam, is the mega fest of Kerala and considered to be a showcase of Malayali culture. Onam is one event when every Malayali proudly wears the ethnic clothes, and exhibits the culture of his forefathers. If you want to experience the true culture of Kerala, then this is the best time to pay a visit to the God’s own country!
Important Onam Dates
- Thiruvonam (on September 4): The main Onam celebrations occur on this day, and it is believed that King Mahabali after arriving in the state, visits the homes of all Malayalis.
- Avvittom (on September 5): The day is spent in preparing for the departure of Mahabali. Onathappan (pyramid-style clay statues) that were used to worship the king are now immersed in the sea and the Pookalams (floral decorations) are cleaned.
- Chatayam (on September 6): This is the post Onam celebration, when everyone has been blessed and they rejoice. The celebrations can last for the next couple of days.
5 Events you would not want to miss
Talking in simple terms, this is the inauguration of the Onam celebration. The event takes place ten days before the actual Onam day. This street parade presents a rich array of color and culture. Malayalis dressed in colorful outfits parade through the streets of Tripunithura (near Ernakulam). The procession has elaborately decorated elephants, various floats, performances by musicians and dancers. As the legend has it: the Maharaja of Kochi would march from Tripunithura to Vamanamoorthy Temple in Thrikkakara and upon arriving the Onam celebrations would start. The modern day procession, also follows the footsteps of the Maharaja. Before the event, streets are decorated with flowers and street side stalls are set up.
- Venue: Tripunithura (9 KM away from Ernakulam)
- Date: August 25, 2017
- Note: Many other cultural events are organized at Layam Ground in Tripunithura for the 10 days leading to Onam.
Mega Celebrations at Thrikkakara Temple
If you do not visit this 2000 year old temple during Onam, then you will miss out on a great deal of fun. The biggest Onam celebrations take place within the premises of this temple. The celebrations span across 10 days. As mentioned before, the celebrations start at the temple after the colorful procession (Thripunithura Athachamayam) from Tripunithura arrives at the temple premises. All through the 10 days cultural performances such as Chakyar Koothu, Ottamthullal, Kathakali and Patakam are organized here. A grand banquet, or Sadya, is held during the last two days of the festival within the temple campus. During this banquet, more than twenty thousand devotees visit the temple to taste the divine food.
- Venue: Thrikkakara village,(15 KM away from Ernakulam)
- Dates: August 25-September 5
- Note: The final day of celebrations is marked by a procession of decorated elephants carrying the main deity, Vamana. This is a not to be missed event!
Pulikkali (Tiger Play)
During the main Onam celebrations, most people are engrossed in decorating and worshipping at their home, so once they bid adieu to Mahabali the fun time starts. Pulikkali Tiger Play was first patronized about 200 years back by the then Maharaja of Kochi. It is a folk art, which is also a symbol of masculinity. The procession starts early in the morning with men dressed as tigers (mainly), other wild animals and some as hunters dancing and pouncing through the streets of Thrissur. To prepare for this event, participants have to shave off their body hair, paint their body (in yellow, red and black), as well as wear the specially designed animal masks.
- Venue: Swaraj Round, Thrissur
- Date: September 8
- Note: The procession starts in the wee hours of the morning, and there is a huge fan following for this procession. So, book your seats in advance!
Aranmula Vallam Kali (Snake Boat Race)
Snake Boat Races are popular features of Kerala, so how can Onam celebrations pass without them! The Aranmula Snake Boat Race is more of a tradition than a competition, but that does not dampen the spirits one little bit. Nearly 50 well decorated boats and their oarsmen take part in this race organized on the banks of River Pamba. The day also marks the installation of Lord Krishna idol at the nearby Aranmula Parthasarathy Temple.
- Venue: Banks of Pampa River near the Parthasarthy temple, Aranmula.
- Date: September 8
- Trivia: There is a high Malayali population in Singapore, and the people there celebrate Onam with a snake boat race at Jurong Lake.
Sadya (feast) is an important part of the main celebrations. As a part of this feast more than 20 different dishes are prepared in the household, though the number crosses 30 in temples. Some of the dishes included in Sadya include: Banana chips, Pappadam, Sharkaraveratti, Injipuli, Mezhukkupuratti, Kaalan, Olan, Avial, Thoran, Sambhar, Dal served with ghee, Erisheri, Molosyam, Rasam, Puliseri, Kichadi, Pachadi, Moru, sweet and sour Pickles, buttermilk, coconut chutney and Payasam. To taste this feast of flavors you have to either get yourself invited to a Malayali household or visit a traditional restaurant in the town.
- Date: September 4-6
- Note: As a part of Kerala Tourism’s initiative, a growing number of restaurants in Kerala are serving the Onam Sadya.
So, plenty of reasons to visit Kerala during Onam, right?