Home > Calendar > Onam

+  Text   -  


Kerala which is otherwise popularly known as Gods own country, enjoys a unique geographic features that have made it one of the most sought destinations in Asia with rich rich cultural heritage.Onam or Thiruvonam is the biggest annual harvest festival of Kerala where the celebrations goes on for ten days,begining with the atham day of the Malayalam month chingam (Aug - Sep) and marks the homecoming of legendary King Mahabali.

The major activities for onam involves worshipping, music, dances, sports, boat races and of course good food. The other main highlights of the onam festival include floral decorations, elephant processions, thiruvathirakali, classical and folk dance performances, classical and folk music recitals, cultural pageants and water carnivals.Thiruvonam adds lot to its word meaning. The word thiruvonam is derived from the sanskrit word 'Shravanam' and is also considered to be one of the 27 nakshatras or constellations.


Origin of the Onam festival is mainly associated with the coming of the famous demon King Mahabali or Maveli to his country. The legend goes like that the king Mahabali was noted for his justice and goodness of his rule where all his people enjoyed his rule and they lived in surplus and peace. Apart from a good ruler he was also a great conqueror for he captured most part of the universe including the land, sea and the heaven. At a point of time even the Gods were worried and seeked for Lord Vishnu's help. So Lord Vishnu descended on earth in the form of a dwarf Brahmin, called Vamana and went to get alms from the King Mahabali.

Mahabali,the demon king asked Vamana so as how he can help him. Lord Vishnu in the form of Vamana asked for just three pieces of land that could come within three of his footsteps and the alm was also granted. Soon as the wish was granted Vamana transformed to Lord Narayana covered the land and seas with one step and the heavens with the second and asked the king Mahabali were to put his third step for which the king offered his head as the ground for Vishnu/Vamana's third step. Mahabali was thus subjugated and sent to the underworld. However for the wish of the people and the king Mahabali being a good, he was allowed to visit his land once a year which is celebrated as Onam, welcoming the Demon god Mahabali.


Boat Palliodam

It once happened some people were sailing in a boat called 'Palliodam', but after a while it got stuck in a place and the people in the boat had difficulties it entering into the main stream. So the head of the boat got down from the boat and went to the nearby hut to seek help. Soon as he reached the hut he saw a poor widow and her children were crying out of hunger and poverty. The headman of the boat was very much taken aback by this and so he hurried to his boat and got enough food for them. As soon as it was done, the boat could be easily maneuvered to the main course of river again. So the legends say that on the day of Onam it is must for everyone to feed the poor people.

Vanishing Boy

There is also another legend which says that it is a tradition among the Nambudiri Brahmins to offer food to the deity in Aranmulla Temple on Onam, every year. The story behind this legend is that one of the Nambudiri Brahmin family of Katoor Mana was bathing in the river nearby Aranmulla.It is their religious duty to offer food for a poor after offering prayers to God.Suddeny he saw a small boy with torn clothes standing in front of him.

So the brahmin took the boy and gave him a bath and also fed him. Once this was done the boy was missing from sight, and again he spotted the boy near the Aranmulla only to loose him again. After this the Brahmin concluded that the boy was none other than the Lord Vishnu, since it became a custom to offer food to the deity in Aranmulla Temple on Onam, every year. Another belief is that Onam was celebrated during the reign of King Mahabali and it was a popular festival. After King Mahabali departed from earth, people chose this day to remember their ruler.

Customs of Onam


Onam starts with the Athachamyam which is a grand procession. In those days this event was marked by the Maharaja of Kochi as a custom traveling to Thripunithura with all his associates. Even today the processions are carried out with performances by folk artistes, caparisoned elephants, musical ensembles and dance shows by skilled artistes.

Snake Boat Race

The Snake boat race is one of the important custom followed just before the eve of Onam.The main highlights of this boat race are spectacular water pageants with floats, decorated boats, performing arts etc.There are music of drums played according to which the boatman row their boat. Though the boat race is held in different parts of Kerala, the one held in Allepey is supposed to be very famous.

Aranmula Uthrittathi

This is a traditional boat race conducted at Sree Parthasarathy temple, Aranmula in connection with the Onam celebrations is more of a water fiesta than a competition.

Procession of Decked Elephants

Onam is also highlighted by the procession of decorated elephants go along the streets with their majestic gait and grandeur. Songs, dance and merry making are a part of this event.

Celebrations at Cheruthuruthy

Cheruthuruthy is a famous place in Trissur district for the Kathakali Training Centre.Onam is highlighted by Kathakali performance where they enact scenes from epics and folk tales.

Pulikali/Kaduvakali Performance

This is another important custom performed during Onam where the performers paint themselves like a tiger and enact various tales like tiger hunting goats and tigers being hunted by humans. This is accompanied by the music of udukku and thakil.


This is another recreational folk dance from the state of Kerala, particularly South Malabar. Clad in plaited grass and a huge colourful wooden mask, Kummattikali performers can be seen entertaining people on the festive occasion of Onam. Children are a huge fan of the performance. Mythological and folk themes are enacted on the beat of onavillu in Kummattikali.

Athapoovu Competitions

A flower carpet called 'Pookalam' is laid in front of every house to welcome the advent of the vanquished king, and earthen mounds representing Mahabali and Vishnu are placed in the dung-plastered courtyards. Competitions for decorating Pookalams are organized all over the state. At the center of every pookalam a bronze lamp is lit and females dance around it in their traditional costume of mundu.


There are many traditional games played during Onam and they are popularly known as Onakalikal.The games include Talappanthukali, Kutukutu and combats like Kayyankali and Attakalam.


Onam festival is celebrated for a period of ten days not only by the people of Kerala but all over the world.Onam starts with Atham processions are carried out with performances by folk artistes, caparisoned elephants, musical ensembles and dance shows by skilled artsites.The Government of India has been giving the festivity a major boost by celebrating the Kerala tourism week at the time of Onam.The other major part of celebration includes the decoration of the Pookalam in front of every house. At the center of every pookalam a bronze lamp is lit and females dance around it in their traditional costume of mundu.People also visit the nearby temples to offer special prayers.

Two square pyramids representing Vishnu and Bali are erected in courtyards and worshipped with offerings of flowers, fruits and other auspicious food products. People clean up the entire house just before the festival and on the day of Thiruonam people get up early have a bath and dress up in their onam attire. Special meals are arranged on the day of Onam which is known as Onasadya.Apart from all this customs and traditions, there are also many other entertainments like Talappanthukali, Kutukutu and combats like Kayyankali and Attakalam are conducted on the eve Onam.


In several households in Kerala, children are greeted Onam best wishes with a silver coin. New clothes and lots of other gifts are given to children and all other members of the family as a norm. New apparels) is the most important gift for Onam. As per tradition Onakkodi is gifted to near and dear ones during Onam. Additionally, several other Onam gifts like jewellery, flowers, aesthetic indoor decoration are also in vogue these days.

Relevant Links