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Visiting Kerala, the first thing that comes to mind about malayali festivity is Onam. Onam being a harvest festival during the month of Chingam (August-September) is one of the best times to visit Kerala in all its glory. It is celebrated year after year to mark the golden era during the rule of the great king Mahabali. Celebrations begin within a fortnight of Malayalam new year and go on for 10 days. The 10 day celebration is flagged off with Athachamayam, the royal parade on Atham day, in Thripunithura a suburb of Kochi city.The Malayalam calendar has given each of these days its importance and significance.

The first day- Atham, is the day on which Mahabali is believed to start his preparation to descend from pathala to Kerala .Floral carpets called Athapookalam are made on this day with Dashapushpam (10 flowers). Vamana, an avatar of Vishnu, also known as Onathappan is revered during this time by placing his clay figure next to the floral carpet.The second day is Chithira. The third day is Chodi. The fourth day is Vishakam, the day when local markets open their harvest sale. The fifth, sixth, seventh and eight day are respectively Anizham,Thrikota,Moolam and Pooradam. The ninth day Uthradom, which is considered as the eve of Onam, is also called first Onam. It marks the day when king Mahabali descends onto Kerala.

The 10th day , Thiruvonam or second Onam is the day when Mahabali was sent to pathal.The birthday of Sri Padmanabhan,the presiding diety of trivandrum is also celebrated on this day.The two following days after Thiruvonam are also celebrated .Avittom, third onam, marks the preparation for king Mahabali’s ascension to the heavens. The main ritual is to take the Onathappan statue which was place in the middle of every Pookalam during the past 10 days and immerse it in the nearby river or sea .The fourth day of Onam is called Chathayam. The official government celebrations end on this day with the mega festival in the capital city -Trivandrum.

Onam mainly means the beginning of the much awaited onam holidays and of course the favorite part – the Onam sadhya! Onam sadhya is the main meal we have on the day of Thiruvonam, a feast that malayalis take much pride and delight in. The smell of hot fresh rice made on a viraku aduppu (open hearth) and the sight of so many colourful curries and side dishes make ones senses go wild. Of course on that day the kitchen will be in a state of utter chaos. All the neighbors, maids, women, local help and children all crowded in the tiny kitchen trying to get the feast on the table by afternoon. The Onam sadhya is a traditional feast which may have 25 or more side dishes. A few of the main dishes are avail, thoran, olan, kaalan, pachadi, sambhaar, rasam, payasam, pullisheri and prathaman. The eating of the Onam sadhya is an art by itself. First timers may be overwhelmed by the amount of rice and food that they are served. Infact it’s something you learn how to eat with practice over the years. There are basically around five rounds to this feast where we are served rice and a different curry every four minutes. Those who are smart and experienced in eating sadhyas will divide the rice they get in the first round into five portions. We begin with chips, followed by tangy sweet injipulli chutney to open up the taste buds and prepare for the feast. Then the nei paruppu is eaten to help speeding digestion. Sweet is eaten in the middle of the meal and ended with curd rice and banana. The whole feast is eaten off plantain leaves.

The other main events during Onam are its dances. Thiruvathirakali is a famous women’s dance performed around a lamp. Kummattikali is a mask dance performed in Thrissur. Kathakali is the enactment of famous mythological legends. Pulikalli or kaduvakalli, is a dance where acrobatic agile men paint themselves in yellow and orange colors with black stripes and dance to the beats of instruments like Udukku and thakil. Theyam is another ritual worship dance.

Snake boat races or vallam kali is one of the highlighted events of Onam .Various races such as the “Aranmula boat race” and the “Nehru trophy boat race” sponsored by private and government sources are held each year. All together Onam is a celebration of colors, customs, religion, superstition and belief. A festival that brings friends and family together, and hope for a better new year.

 


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