Like most parts of India, festivals in Kerala are an
integral part of the social and cultural structure of the
state and festival time is the best time to plan one's
travel to Kerala. In Kerala, every community, every religion
has something to celebrate about all through out the year.
But one festival that is celebrated irrespective of caste
and creed all over Kerala is the Onam festival.
Onam is a time for sports, festivities and ritual
celebrations in Kerala. The Keralites celebrate this
festival in memory of the golden era of King Mahabali whose
spirit is said to visit the state at the time of Onam.
festivals are organized along the sacred River Pampa as part
of the celebrations.
After three months of heavy rains, the sky becomes a clear
blue and the forests a deep green. The brooks and streams
come alive, spouting a gentle white foam, the lakes and
rivers overflow and lotuses and lilies are in full bloom as
if to welcome the spirit of the King. It is time to reap the
harvest, to celebrate and to rejoice.
Depending on the positioning of the stars and the moon, the
festival is held at the end of August or beginning of
September, less than a fortnight after the Malayalam New
Year, Chingam begins. The biggest festival of Kerala, Onam
is also the best time to plan one's travel and tour in
Kerala. The color, enthusiasm and celebrations associated
with Onam are enough to make you return again.
The celebrations begin within a fortnight of the Malayalam
New Year and go on for ten days. The last day called the
Thiruonam is the most important. All over the state, rituals
along with new clothes, traditional cuisine, dance and music
mark this harvest festival.
In Trichur, a vibrant procession with resplendently
caparisoned elephants is taken out while at Cheruthuruthy,
people gather to watch Kathakali performers enact scenes
from epics and folk tales. Pulikali, also known as
Kaduvakali is a common sight during Onam season. Performers
painted like tigers in bright yellow, red and black, dance
to the beats of instruments like udukku and thakil.
Tourists on vacation in Kerala during Onam can also witness
the famous snake boat races of Kerala. At Aranmulla, where
there is a temple dedicated to Lord Krishna and Arjuna,
thousands of people gather on the banks of the River Pampa
to witness the exciting snake boat races. Nearly 30 chundan
vallams or snake boats participate in the festival. Singing
traditional boat songs, the oarsmen, in white dhotis and
turbans, splash their oars into the water to guide their
boats to cruise along like a fish on the move. The golden
lace at the head of the boat, the flag and the ornamental
umbrella at the center make it a spectacular show of
Each snake boat belongs to a village along the banks of the
River Pampa and is worshipped like a deity. Every year the
boat is oiled mainly with fish oil, coconut shell, and
carbon, mixed with eggs to keep the wood strong and the boat
slippery in the water. The village carpenter carries out
annual repairs lovingly and people take pride in their boat,
which represents their village and is named after it.
The swing is another integral part of Onam, especially in
the rural areas. Young men and women, decked in their best,
sing Onappaattu, or Onam songs, and rock one another on
swings slung from high branches.