Cultural Festivals Religious Festival

Onam Festivities: The Heartbeat of Kerala’s Rich Heritage

Spread India's Glorious Cultural & Spiritual Heritage


Onam, the vibrant and much-anticipated festival of Kerala, is a grand celebration that reflects the rich cultural heritage and traditions of the state. Marking the end of the monsoon season and the beginning of the harvest, Onam is a time when Keralites, irrespective of their age or religious beliefs, come together to celebrate with joy and enthusiasm. This blog post delves into the origins, customs, and significance of Onam, exploring how this festival beautifully encapsulates the essence of Kerala’s tradition and culture.

Origins and Legend

Onam is deeply rooted in the legend of King Mahabali, a benevolent and just ruler who was loved by his people. According to mythology, the gods, envious of Mahabali’s popularity, sought the help of Lord Vishnu to curtail his power. Vishnu, in his Vamana avatar (dwarf Brahmin), approached Mahabali and asked for three paces of land. The generous king agreed, and Vamana grew in size, covering the earth and the heavens in two steps. For the third step, Mahabali offered his own head, and Vishnu, impressed by his devotion, granted him the boon to visit his kingdom once a year. Onam celebrates this annual visit of Mahabali, symbolizing prosperity, unity, and happiness.

The Ten Days of Onam

Onam festivities span over ten days, each with its own unique customs and rituals. The celebrations begin on Atham and culminate on Thiruvonam, the most important day of the festival.

  1. Atham: The first day marks the beginning of the festivities with the creation of the Athapookalam, an intricate floral arrangement in front of homes.
  2. Chithira: On the second day, additional layers of flowers are added to the Pookalam, and people begin cleaning their homes.
  3. Chodhi: The third day sees families shopping for new clothes and gifts.
  4. Vishakam: One of the busiest days, as households prepare for the grand feast by purchasing fresh produce.
  5. Anizham: The fifth day features the commencement of the Vallamkali (snake boat races), a major attraction of Onam.
  6. Thriketa: People start visiting their ancestral homes and temples, exchanging gifts and blessings.
  7. Moolam: The Pookalams become more elaborate, and traditional dance performances such as Pulikali and Kaikottikali are held.
  8. Pooradam: Statues of King Mahabali and Vamana are placed in the center of Pookalams.
  9. Uthradam: Known as the first Onam, this day involves purchasing the final items for the feast and performing rituals.
  10. Thiruvonam: The main day of Onam, characterized by the grand Onasadya feast, cultural performances, and family gatherings.

The Grand Feast: Onasadya

One of the highlights of Onam is the Onasadya, a sumptuous feast consisting of a variety of traditional vegetarian dishes served on a banana leaf. The Onasadya typically includes:

  • Rice: The staple of the meal.
  • Parippu: A lentil curry served with ghee.
  • Sambar: A spicy lentil and vegetable stew.
  • Rasam: A tangy tamarind soup.
  • Avial: A mix of vegetables cooked with coconut and yogurt.
  • Thoran: Stir-fried vegetables with coconut.
  • Olan: A dish made with white gourd, coconut milk, and ginger.
  • Kaalan: A curry made from yam and plantains in a yogurt-based sauce.
  • Pachadi and Kichadi: Sweet and sour yogurt-based dishes.
  • Pickles and Chutneys: Various spicy and tangy accompaniments.
  • Papadum: Crisp fried wafers.
  • Payasam: A traditional dessert made with rice, milk, and jaggery.

The Onasadya is not just a meal but a celebration of Kerala’s culinary heritage, bringing together a plethora of flavors and textures in a single feast.

Traditional Games and Cultural Performances

Onam is a time for various traditional games and cultural performances that reflect Kerala’s rich heritage:

  1. Vallamkali (Snake Boat Race): The spectacular boat races on the backwaters are a major attraction, with teams rowing in rhythm to traditional songs.
  2. Pulikali: Performers paint themselves as tigers and hunters, dancing to the beat of drums, creating a vibrant and energetic spectacle.
  3. Kaikottikali: A graceful dance performed by women around a lamp, showcasing elegance and coordination.
  4. Athachamayam: A grand procession featuring decorated elephants, traditional music, and folk art forms, held in Thripunithura.

Onam and Modern Kerala

While Onam is steeped in tradition, it has also evolved with the times. Today, the festival is celebrated with equal fervor by Keralites around the world, who uphold their cultural roots despite geographical distances. The spirit of Onam transcends barriers, bringing together people from all walks of life in a shared celebration of heritage and community.


Onam is more than just a festival; it is a reflection of Kerala’s cultural ethos, a celebration of unity, and a tribute to the state’s rich traditions. Through its vibrant customs, grand feasts, and joyous festivities, Onam encapsulates the spirit of Kerala, making it a unique and cherished celebration. As the legend of King Mahabali continues to inspire generations, Onam remains a time for family reunions, communal harmony, and cultural pride, truly making it a magical celebration of Kerala’s tradition and culture.

Spread India's Glorious Cultural & Spiritual Heritage

By Mala Chandrashekhar

Introducing Blogger Mala Chandrashekhar - A specialist academically trained in modern Western sciences, yet deeply enamored with India's timeless ethnic arts, crafts, and textiles. Her heart beats for the rich and glorious cultural and spiritual heritage of India, and she has dedicated her entire blog to spreading the immortal glories of ancient India worldwide. Through her simple yet impactful blog posts, Mala aims to reach every nook and corner of the globe, sharing India's beauty and wisdom with the world.

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