It’s been long long time since I wrote something. I had a couple of things that came across my way and needed attention. So back to writing.
Well.. It is festival time. Onam. Not many are familiar with Onam. Being almost secluded by the Western Ghats and Nilgiris range, we Keralites celebrate different set of festivals when compared to rest of India. And the happy part, every festival of every religion is celebrated with equal vigor. Easter buns and the ‘Vishu katta’ are shared by all. The Eid special biriyani and Onam special ‘payasam’ are favorites of everybody.
So back to Onam, the harvest festival of Kerala. Contrary to the popular belief, Onam is Kerala New Year, not Vishu. Onam is also thought as the commemoration festival of the visit of the People’s King Mahabali or dearly called Maveli. People get new dresses, travel to meet relatives and make sadhya, while there are others like me who are satisfied with ready made sadhya and spend the day in office.
The celebrations start nine days prior and extend up-to 14 days. So today I will give you the importance of first twelve days which are part of the main celebration.
- Atham — This is the day when King Mahabali is believed to have started preparing to come back and visit his kingdom. People begin the day with an early bath, followed by prayers. Kids under the supervision of adults make special floral arrangements (pookalam) on the ground in front of homes to welcome him. Traditionally, the pookalams are completed with ten rings, each representing a Hindu god. The colors are chosen to please each god, and only yellow flowers are used on Atham for the first layer of the pookalam. In some places, people make the pookalam with the ten herbs known as Dashapushpam. However, these days, more importance is given to how elaborate and striking the design is. A grand procession, Athachamyam, marks the start of Onam celebrations near Kochi.
- Chithira — Pookalams become bigger with two more orunds added to it using mostly orange and creamy yellow flowers. People also visit temples to seek blessings.
- Chodhi — This day marks the start of shopping for Onam. People begin buying new clothes, jewelry, and gifts.
- Vishakham — People start stocking up ingredients to make the elaborate Onam meal. Markets traditionally used to hold their harvest sale on this day, making it a popular day for shopping. Pookalam design competitions also commence across Kerala on this day.
- Anizham — What is Onam without snake boat races? Snake boat races kick-off across the state. A mock race is held at Aranmula as a rehearsal for the race that’s held there after the main day of Onam.
- Thriketa — People from cities start visiting their families in the countryside and also start visiting their relatives. The pookalams grow bigger as more flowers and layers are continued to be added.
- Moolam — The entire state will be beautifully decorated like a bride (as old people say) and await the arrival of their beloved King.
- Pooradam — From this day people pyramid-style clay statues, known as Onathappan, in the center of pookalams. They represent king Mahabali and Lord Vamana (the fifth incarnation of Lord Vishnu, who sent Mahabali to the underworld but allowed him to visit his kingdom once a year during Onam). By now, the pookalams have greatly grown in size and complexity of design.
- First Onam/Uthradom — King Mahabali is believed to arrive in Kerala on this day. It’s a jubilant occasion when people rush to complete their Onam shopping and the cleaning of their homes. It’s considered to be an auspicious day for buying fresh fruit and vegetables.
- Second Onam/Thiruvonam — the main Onam celebrations occur on this day, when King Mahabali is said to visit people’s homes. Homes are spic and span, finished pookalams are elaborate, new clothes are worn, and families gather to enjoy an elaborate vegetarian feast known as the Onam Sadya or Onasadya, or popularly and lovingly known as Sadhya
- Third Onam/Avvittom — preparations are undertaken for King Mahabali’s departure. Onathappan statues are immersed in the sea or river, and pookalams are cleared and removed.
- Fourth Onam/Chatayam — post-Onam celebrations continue for the next couple of days with snake boat races, Pulikali tiger play, and Kerala Tourism’s Onam Week program.
And, you know what the best thing about malayalis are? Wherever they go, they take onam with them. Let it be the Middle East or the Western countries they migrate to, they celebrate onam. After all, Onam is a part of Malayalis.