The grand secular festival of Kerala, Onam is a ten day long festival which has numerous customs and traditions associated with it. The zest and enthusiasm imbibed in Onam is so huge it make the people of Kerala break all the barriers of caste and creed and unite. During the week-long festival, the state is decorated like a newlywed with lot of merriments going on. Families in Kerala have get together with the elder member of the family gifting new clothes to the younger members and kids. Onam is also the harvest festival of Kerala and as it is celebrated after monsoon, the land would be lush green with rivers and streams overflowing. This is exactly the reason why the captivating boat races become the striking feature of Onam. In the days following Onam, the state also witness Pulikali and Kummattikali. Read further to know to know more about the customs and traditions of Onam.
Onappookkalam or Floral Mat
Floral carpets or Onappookkalam is one of the beautiful customs of Onam. During the ten day festival of Onam, houses and thresholds are cleaned and Pookkalam of different flowers are made in front of every house. It requires lots and lots of flowers and leaves to complete this Onappookkalam and as per the customs, it must grow bigger in size as the day progresses and the tenth day should witness the biggest Pookkalam. The families and kids of the houses in Kerala take great pride in preparing these pookkalams. In early days, it was a way of making kids familiarize about flowers and nature.
Vallamkali or Boat Race
The most enchanting of the Onam celebration customs is the Boat race or Vallamkali. One of the most admired and engrossing events associated with Onam, it is held during the Onam festival. Though there is numerous boat races held all through the state, the most famous of them is 'Aranmula Uthrattadi Vallamkali' at Pathanamthitta' and 'Nehru Trophy Boat Race' in Alappuzha. What makes this striking is that huge canoes are decorated with hundreds of boatmen racing it. The rhythmic music and songs tempts people to flock to the event.
Pulikkali, a folk art, form one of the most entertaining customs the ten day festival of Onam witness. Pulikkali means, 'play of tigers'. Celebrated in the central districts of Kerala like Thrissur and Palghat, pulikali include trained artists dress themselves as tigers by painting their body with yellow, red and black patterns. A captivating custom which is dated back to 200 years, in pulikali, artists dance to instruments like Udukku and Thakil.
Thumbi Thullal is a gracious folk art form performed by women during the ten day Onam festival in Kerala. Though slowly disappearing, this beautiful art is one which imbibes the true spirit of Onam. In this, performers wear attractive jewelry and clothes, form a ring with the lead performer sit in the middle and sing a fast paced song. The other performers join her by clapping the hands and swaying to the rhythm of the song.
An elegant dance form performed during the Onam festival, Kaikottikali witness Kerala women, irrespective of young and old wear the traditional attire and dance to songs praising the mighty King Mahabali who ruled Kerala during the ancient days. In some places in Kerala, women dance around Pookkalam or floral mat in the center of which there will be a bronze lit lamp (nilavilakku).
Athachamayam is a grand procession which marks the beginning of the ten day of festival of Onam. This is a grand tradition which is held on the 1st day of Onam (Atham) in places like Thripunithura and Piravam. This event is held to commemorate the royal tradition in which the kings of the state of Cochin travelled from their Thripunithura Fort to the Thrikkakara temple with the royal entourage. Nowadays, the event has huge fanfare which is often accompanied by folk artistes, musical ensembles and dance shows by skilled artists even without the royal charm.
There are various customs and traditions associated with Onam celebrations. Here are some of the customs and traditions.