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Onam- Festivals in India

The South Indian state of Kerala bustles with some high-spirited activity during the late August or early September. The reason of this celebration is the state festival of Onam, a 10-day carnival including boat races, feasting, dance, songs, happiness and much more.

Rangoli to Celebrate Onam
Huge Rangoli prepared to celebrate Onam, an important festival in Kerala
If you are interested in visiting Kerala, here's a brief travel guide to Kerala.

Origin
Onam, also known as Thiruonam, begun in the form of happy yearly recollection of the reign of King Mahabali, a mythical King.  This long duration is famed as the golden period in Kerala.

It is a reminder of the true devotion of this king to the God, his sacrifices, his feeling of pride and ultimately his salvation. It is in taken-up in the form of celebration of an assurance that people of his state are happy.

Legend
The yearly festivities of Onam have a legend behind them. According to the legend, King Mahabali, who was a believer of Lord Vishnu, conquered all three worlds, after defeating the Devtas.

The Devtas went to Lord Vishnu for help, for which he denied. But later he decided to test the King and took the form of a dwarf Barhim, Vamana and went to attend the Yagna being performed by him.

On visiting Mahabali, Vamana demanded that as a priest his wishes should be fulfilled for which the king readily agreed. However, Sukracharya, King’s priest stopped him from doing so but Mahabali still went on as he was a man of one word. Vamana said that he would take away that amount of land of the king’s property which he will cover in 3 steps.

As the King said yes, Vamana grew in size and measured all of the earth in one step and all of the heaven in second, with his third step still remaining. King Mahabali realized that he was Lord Vishnu and so he said that the Lord should keep his third foot on his head.

Vamana did the same and sent Manabali down to Sutala, an underworld heaven. Today, the site where Lord had placed his foot is Thrikkakara village and also and thus, it is the center of the Onam festival.

Significance
Lord Vishnu made him the ruler of that underworld and blessed him that he would be able to visit his people on earth every year, once. This festival is a celebration in the form of that time when King Mahabali, fondly called Onathappan , visits his people. Onam is celebrated from pre-historic times in Kerala to honor the King.

A secular festival
The best thing about this festival is that this is a secular festival and is celebrated by people of all religions, communities, castes- rich or poor.  The festival brings along with feelings of brotherhood, oneness and peace.

Onam activities
Earthen pots, as symbols of Lord Vishnu and King Mahabali are placed in the dung-plastered courtyards of the houses. ‘Pookkalam’, a multi-colored flower carpet, in a circular shape with a diameter of 1.5 m, is spread in the house’s front to welcome the king. There are even competitions to pick the best one amongst all the Pookkalams.

An image of Thrikkakara Appan, the dwarf form of Mord Vishhu is also placed in the homes of Keralite Hindus during Onam.

People also lit lamps in the temples. Even a Palmyra tree is planted in front of the temples, which is surrounded with a wooden balustrade and then is sheltered with dry Palmyra leaves. Then this is burnt into ashes with the help of a torch as a significance that King Mahabali sacrificed and went to hell.

Onam Sadya

Onam Sadya
Onam Sadya, a vegetarian banquet is the center of attraction for Onam
This 10-day festival offers one a chance to soak-himself up in Kerala’s rich cultural heritage. One of the major features of Onam is the Onasadya, a grand feast prepared on Thiruonam. This is a 9-course meal that comprises of 11 to 13 necessary dishes.

This meal is served on a banana leaf while people sit on the floor to eat. Pickles and Papadam are also a must. A special dessert, known as Payasam, a sweet dish prepared from milk, sugar and other savories is also served.

The Big-Show
Stunning spectacular parades consisting of fireworks, decorated elephants as well as Kathakali dancers is an important part of the festivities. Many sports events and cultural programs take place during the festival. This time of the year has been declared as the Tourism Week by the Government of Kerala.

Boat Race
Vallamkali or the boat race of Karuvatta Payippad, Aranmula and Kottayam is one of the main attractions of the festival. Around 100s team members row the traditional boats according to the rhythm of cymbals and drums. The long traditional snake boats are known as ‘Chundans’ mainly because of their long hulls and high sterns that resemble a cobra’s hood.

Snake Boat Race, Onam Celebration in Kerala
Snake Boat Race is an integral part of Onam Celebration in Kerala
Along with this, there are ‘Odis’ too which are small but swift boats with gold tasseled silk umbrellas, then ‘Veppus’ that is same as a cook-boat and lastly, ‘Churulans’ with complex prows and sterns. This is like a reminder of the naval warfare of the ancient days.

To view this traditional Boat race, there are 1000s of spectators on the banks who cheer and watch the amazing display of the muscle power, rhythm sense and rowing skills.

Rituals
The festivities begin with Aathachamayam, a royal parade on the Aatham Day in Thripunithara. This colorful parade is a depiction of the elements of Keralite culture with more than 50 boaters and 100s of figures from the ancient times. Thrikakkara temple in Kochi is the center of the festival which is believed to be the ancient capital of the kingdom of Mahabali.

Onam is celebrated with great elaboration. Here is the 10- Day breakdown of the Celebration after Pookklam is made:
1.Atham
2.Chithira
3.Chodhi
4.Vishakam
5.Anizham
6.Thriketa
7.Moolam
8.Pooradam
9.Uthradom
10.Thiruvonam
 
Post -Onam celebrations
Generally the celebrations come to an end on the tenth day. Nevertheless, on the two following days also, they are celebrated in the form of Third and Fourth Onam. The third Onam is known as Avvittom which is the preparation of King Mahabali going to the heaven.

On this day, the statue of the King is placed in the middle of Pookkalam and then immersed in the river or the sea. On this day, Pulikali is also held in Thrissur where men in the garbs of tigers and lions parade throughout the city.

On the 4th day, which is called Chatayam, the Onam festival comes to an end with an official government celebration that consists of a mega dance festival in Thiruvananthapuram, the capital city of Kerala.
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