Onam Quick Facts

Festival NameOnam (ओणम)
Festival Date20 August 2023 – 31 August 2023
Festival TypeReligious
Festival LevelTerritorial
Festival Observed byHindus

History of Onam

Onam is a harvest festival celebrated in Kerala. It also marks the return of King Mahabali/Maveli to Kerala, as the demon king once ruled the kingdom. According to mythology, the kind-hearted king Mahabali defeated the gods and started ruling the three worlds.

Onam, celebrated by the Hindu community, marks the beginning of the annual harvest season in the southern parts of India. It is celebrated with great enthusiasm and with many festivals all over Kerala and is considered as the official state festival. According to the Malayalam calendar, the festival is celebrated in the first month of Chingam, which overlaps with August–September in the Gregorian calendar. The history of Onam is related to the character of Mahabali King Bali of Kerala. Mahabali was a mythological king who was very generous, gentle and inclusive. There was prosperity and equality in Kerala during his reign, and he was considered a hero of happiness and prosperity among the people.

Story of Onam

According to legends, Onam is celebrated to commemorate the arrival of King Mahabali from Patala. The story goes that Mahabali, the demon king who ruled Kerala, was loved by all for his generosity and kindness. This scared the gods and they sought help from Lord Vishnu, who disguised himself as a poor Brahmin and went to Kerala. He asked the king to give him land that could be covered within three feet and Mahabali granted his wish. Soon, the brahmin began to grow in size and spanned the sky and the earth with his first and second step. Before he could take his third step, the king offered his head for the last step, which took him to Patala. However, the king was blessed to visit his people once every year for his good deeds. Onam is the day of his annual visit to the earth.

Significance of Onam

The significance of Onam is particularly recognized in the Indian state of Kerala and reflects the spirit of unity, harmony, togetherness and joy.

Harmony and unity : During Onam, people of all classes and communities come together to enjoy harmony, happiness, and unity. The festival is a means of establishing social and cultural unity.

Nature worship: An important aspect of Onam is the worship of the land, nature, and nature's produce. The festival is mainly celebrated to mark the journey of Lord Vamana, an avatar of the gardener Vishnu, and the joy of his arrival on earth.

Cultural significance: Onam is an important cultural event. which includes local dance, music, traditional games and fairs. The festival is dedicated to Indian culture and traditions and showcases national unity and awesomeness.

How to celebrate Onam

Onam is a very special festival, it usually falls in the month of August or September and it lasts for 10 days in which many colorful events are included:-

Pookalam (Flower Rangoli): People decorate the entrances of their homes with beautiful flower rangolis called Pookalams. These intricate designs are created using a variety of flowers in different colours, shapes and patterns. Each day during the festival, the pookalam is elaborated upon, adding more layers and complexity.

Vallamkali (Snake Boat Race): One of the highlights of Onam is the thrilling boat race known as Vallamkali. Teams of people steer traditional longboats called "snake boats" or "chundan vallams" on rivers and lakes. The regatta is an important event, attracting participants and spectators from all over.

Onam Sadya (feast): A grand feast known as Onam Sadya is prepared and served on banana leaves. It is a vegetarian feast consisting of a variety of traditional dishes, including rice, sambar, avial, olan, pachadi, payasam and more. Feast means getting together with family and friends to enjoy.

Pulikali (Tiger Dance): Pulikali, also known as "Tiger Dance", is a unique folk art form performed during Onam. The men dress up as tigers with vibrant body paint and costumes and perform energetic dances showcasing the tiger's hunting prowess.

Onathappan (Onam Shrine): People build small shrines called Onathappan in their homes or courtyards. These are made of clay or metal and decorated with flowers and leaves. The temples represent the presence of King Mahabali during the festival.

Onkalkal (games): Various traditional games are organized as part of the Onam festival. These include Vallamkali (boat race), Uriyadi (pot breaking), tug of war, Talappanthukali (a traditional martial arts sport), and many more. These games add excitement and fun to the festive atmosphere.

Cultural Performances: Cultural events such as traditional dances (Thiruvathirakali, Kaikottikali), musical performances and theatrical shows are organized during Onam. People participate in these performances showcasing the rich cultural heritage of Kerala.

Tradition and customs of Onam

Onam festival is traditionally celebrated with several customs and rituals that have been passed down through generations. Here are some of the traditional ways in which Onam is celebrated:

  1. Pookalam: Each day during the ten-day festival, the pookalam is expanded by adding more layers and more vibrant and intricate designs. People wake up early in the morning, gather fresh flowers, and create beautiful floral rangolis in front of their homes. The pookalam becomes larger and more elaborate as the festival progresses.
  2. Vallamkali (Boat Race): Vallamkali, the famous snake boat race, is an integral part of Onam celebrations. Long boats, often referred to as snake boats, are rowed by a team of oarsmen to the rhythm of traditional songs and drums. The boat races take place on rivers and lakes, and spectators gather to cheer for their favorite teams.
  3. Onam Sadya (Feast): Onam Sadya is a grand vegetarian feast prepared and served on banana leaves. It is an essential part of Onam celebrations. The feast consists of a variety of dishes, including rice, sambar, avial, olan, thoran, pachadi, payasam, and more. The meal is served with love and hospitality, and people often eat together in large groups.
  4. Onathappan: Onathappan is a small shrine or idol made of clay or metal that represents the presence of King Mahabali during Onam. It is placed in the center of the pookalam or in the courtyard of homes. People offer prayers, light oil lamps, and perform rituals in front of the Onathappan.
  5. Thiruvonam: The main day of Onam is called Thiruvonam. On this day, people wake up early, take a bath, and wear new clothes. They prepare an elaborate pookalam and offer prayers to seek the blessings of King Mahabali. Families gather for the grand Onam Sadya and enjoy the delicious meal together. Traditional dances, cultural performances, and games are organized to add to the festive spirit.
  6. Thiruvathira Kali: Thiruvathira Kali is a traditional dance performed by women on the day of Thiruvathira, which falls a few days before Thiruvonam. Women dress in traditional attire and form circles around a lighted lamp, singing and dancing gracefully to the rhythm of traditional songs.
  7. Pulikali: Pulikali, also known as the "tiger dance," is a colorful folk art form performed during Onam. Men paint themselves as tigers and perform energetic dance movements to entertain the onlookers. It is a vibrant and lively performance that adds excitement to the festival.

More info about Onam

With changing times, there have been many changes in the way Onam is celebrated. Earlier Onam was celebrated only by the people of the Hindu community, but nowadays it has become a collective festival celebrated by people of different communities and religions of Kerala. This has made Onam a symbol of cultural unity and cooperation. Changes can also be seen in various Onam celebrations and events. Now various modern culture programmes, music concerts, dance performances and stage plays are organized during Onam. The happiness, joy and cultural heritage of Onam is promoted through these programmes.

Apart from this, new and modern dimensions have also been added to the celebration of Onam. People decorate their homes differently, organize competitions and organize Onam parades. With such innovative ways, the experience of celebrating Onam has become fresh and trendy. With the changing times, the belief of Onam signifies a cultural and social change. The festival instils a feeling of unity and love among the masses and helps in establishing community harmony. At the same time, the changing nature of Onam shows a new face that is keeping pace with the demands of timeliness and materialisation.

List of major festivals:

Date Festival Name
28 October 2023Maharishi Valmiki Jayanti
25 January 2024Shakambhari Jayanti
16 January 2024Bihu
20 August 2023 – 31 August 2023Onam

Onam FAQs:

This year Onam festival is on 20 August 2023 – 31 August 2023.

Onam is a Religious festival, Which is celebrated every year with great enthusiasm.

Onam is celebrated every year by people of Hindus religions/communities.

Onam is a Territorial level festival, which is mainly celebrated by people of Hindus religions/communities.

  Last update :  Thu 8 Jun 2023
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  Post Category :  Festivals & Customs