Onam is the biggest festival of Kerala. But, there is a lot more to this harvest festival. Onam reflects the faith of the people of Kerala. It shows the liveliness and enthusiasm of the people who go out of the way to celebrate the festival with the prescribed customs and with great pomp. The festival of Onam encases an umbrella of captivating activities and the people too, celebrate it extensively with the customs and traditions thoroughly taken care of. Apart from the rituals that have to be completed in the houses of individuals, the festival involves a lot of activities of grandeur that are organised at the society level everywhere in the state. Mentioned below are some of the customs followed during this most celebrated harvest festival.
A grand parade that marks the beginning of the celebration of festival of Onam is Athachamayam. The procession is fun-filled, and the festivity on the day of Atham is held at Thripunithura and Piravam. The event is related to the one time kings of Kochi state who used to travel till Thripunithura Fort with their entire entourage. The customs still have royal touch to them. Folk dances, decked up elephants, musical shows by the artists are the highlights of this event.
Snake Boat Race
Snake Boat Race has, since ages, been the most thrilling and engrossing customs of this festival. Also known as Vallamkali, the event is held a few days before Thiru Onam. This event takes place in many parts of the city, but the one organised at Alappuzha holds the maximum significance. Huge decorated boats, chundan vallams with hundreds of boatmen become part of the event. Rowing of boats on the rhythm of drums makes it an enthralling event.
Another prominent boat event organised with respect to Onam which takes place on the day of Uthrittathi Asterism at Aranmula, is meant to relive mythology that narrates a story of Lord Krishna crossing the river on that particular day. There is no competition involved in this magnificent event as it is believed that Lord himself is present on each boat. Some also offer Valla Sady as a vazhipadu (offering) in the temples on this joyous occasion.
Procession Of Ornamented Elephants
With the procession of decorated elephants on the streets, Trichur, the cultural capital of Kerala, celebrates the festival in its own unique style. It is undoubtedly a splendid view to watch the dazzlingly bejewelled elephants in their full magnificence. Songs, dance and merry making are an inseparable part of this event.
Festivities at Cheruthuruthy
Cheruthuruthy is a small village in the north of Thrissur district, known for Kathak training institutes. Kathakali performance by the best artists of the state marks the festivities of Onam at Cheruthuruthy. Numerous people gather to watch the enactment of scenes from epics and folk tales.
Most entertaining custom of Onam is Pulikali or Kaduvakali, wherein, the performers appear as tigers by painting their bodies with patterns of black and red. Scenes of tiger hunting goats and tigers being hunted by humans are beautifully depicted through this folk art.
Kerala offers another recreational folk dance where clad in plaited grass and a huge colourful wooden mask, Kummattikali performers can be seen amusing people on the joyful occasion of Onam. Mythological and folk themes are enacted on the beat of onavillu in Kummattikali.
It is a vital custom of the Onam festival where the competition of decorating Pookalams is organised all over the state. Since Pookalam has come up as an art form, this event witnesses the participation of a lot of designers, who bring up new designs each year. Onlookers in huge numbers are also present here.
It's an elegant clap dance performed on this merry occasion of Onam by women, where they sing hymns in the praise of legendary King Mahabali and dance around pookalam, a bronze lamp is lit up and kept in the centre. It is indeed an attractive sight to watch the women dancers' troupe perform, dressed in their Keralite outfits consisting of gold bordered off-white mundu-neriyathu and adorned with a fragrant gajra on their hair.
It is another folk dance performed by women who sit in the formation of circle. The main performer sits in the middle who then initiates the song, and others follow.
Onakalikal is a collective name for all the games played on the occasion of Onam. The traditional games played on this festive occasion include sports like Talappanthukali, Kutukutu and combats like Kayyankali and Attakalam. It also constitutes of the royal game of archery organised by various social and cultural organisations all over the state. While senior members of the family choose to go in for indoor games like cards and chess.