National festival of Kerala, onam is the most important annual event for every Malayalees. Onam is celebrated on the 'Thiruvonam' day of Malayalam month 'Chingam', to mark the visit of Mahabali (also called Maveli) to his land. All people irrespective of religious beliefs or color difference celebrate this festival. The national festival of Kerala coincides with the harvesting season of Kerala. The atmosphere also seems to join the celebration, with the blooming of a variety of flowers and sighting of a lot of butterflies, and songs of birds.
Onam is a ten-day long festival, starting with Atham day or Chingam month. From Atham, the courtyards of houses, clubs, offices, will be decorated with special floral decorations called Athappoo or onappookalam. The schools of Kerala will be closed for ten days, and children play in swings, go to collect wild flowers to make 'athappoo', dance, sing, visit their relatives. The elders also gift their children with new clothes, ornaments. It is time for gathering of all the members of a family.
Onam is also the carnival season of Kerala, people actively engaging in a variety of activities like boat racing, pulikali (dressing up like tigers or leopards on two feet), ball games, playing marbles, playing dramas and the list of activities is endless. Women also engage in dancing, singing etc. There will be also dance performances of Mohiniyattom, kathakali, etc. and martial arts performance of Kalaripayattu.
The main attraction of 'thiruvonam' day is a special onam feast, locally called onam sadya or onasadya, which is serving of rice with atleast 15 side dishes on banana leaves. Onasadya will be there in each and every home in Kerala. There is also some dress code to eat the onasadya. Men wear white dhotis with shirt and women white or ivory colored saree and blouse with borders embroidered with golden threads, called kasavu. Children will get a yellow piece of cloth called onakkohdi or manjakkohdi.
Onam shoppingThe main shopping item dress and dress materials. Everyone will buy clothes for themselves and as gifts for their loved ones. Onam festival is the biggest shopping season. Over 90% of sale of handicrafts, artifacts are during this season. Electronics, textile items get about 50% of the annual sales in onam season.
The legend of Onam
The legend behind onam has deep roots in the minds of all Malayalees. Onam myth goes like this. Mahabali was a righteous 'Asura' king. The land got prospered and there was peace everywhere in the kingdom. A kingdom was even better than the heavens with no theft, lies or aggression, so that the gods of heaven got jealous of the able king, Mahabali. Maveli was trapped in a well-plotted drama by Lord Vishnu, and was sent to the netherworld (Patalam). Unlike his ancestors, Maveli did nothing wrong or sinful; he was allowed to visit his people once in a year, that is on Thiruvonam day of Chingam month.
Pronounce onam correctlyThe 'n' in the word onam is pronounced like the n in money and honey. (O+ n ^m) It rhymes with the sound of a bell.