India is a country full of diverse cultures and traditions, bringing colourful festivities throughout the year. Onam is one such festival celebrated to signify a century-old tradition. Onam is the largest and official festival in Kerala, an Indian state known as God’s Own Country.
This article comprises all essential details of the Onam festival, including its early evidence, history and significance in the context of the Civil Services Exam.
Check out the list of Indian Festivals State-wise and Season-wise on the linked page.
What is Onam Festival?
- Malayali people celebrate the Onam festival with a spectrum of rituals to solemnise their annual harvesting. Therefore, it encompasses a multitude of cultural events from every part of the state.
- The origin of this festival can be traced back to ancient times in “Maturaikkanci” (Maduraikanchi), a Sangam poem. It depicts people celebrating this carnival in the Madurai temple. Numerous temple inscriptions after that evidence the celebration of Onam.
- People decorate their household with Pookkalam (flower rangoli) and indulge in Onasadya (ambrosial feasts) and Payasam (Keralian dessert). In addition, the celebration spreads even outdoors with various games and breathtaking traditional Kaikottikali dance.
Timing of Onam Festival
- According to the Gregorian calendar, the Onam festival is celebrated in Kerala between August and September. This timing is based upon Panchangam, which appears on the 22nd Nakshatra Thiruvonam in Chingam (a month of the Malayalam calendar).
- Onam 2021 started Thursday, 12th August and ended on Monday, 23rd August. On the other hand, Onam 2022 will begin on Tuesday, 30th August and end on Thursday, 8th September.
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Early Evidence of Onam Festival
Ancient literature and eulogical evidence imply that this festival has a prolonged religious history in Kerala and then neighbouring South India. Some prominent mentions of Onam are as follows:
- Historians found the earliest reference in a Tamil poem “Maturaikkanci” (Maduraikanchi) of the Sangam era. It describes people celebrating Onam in Madurai temple in Tamil Nadu, with games and events in temple premises. Also, people wore new outfits and sent offerings to the temple.
- Pallads and Pathikas by Periyazharwar in the 9th century describe this celebration with oblations to Lord Vishnu, community events and feasts.
- Thrikkakara Temple inscription of the 11th century explains the Onam festival as a devotion to Vamana, an incarnation of Vishnu. People used to prepare offerings 2 days early and on Thiru Onam.
- Tiruvalla Temple inscription of the 12th century mentions this carnival. It also states that this temple received a donation as an offering.
- A Sanskrit court poet of Zamorin, Uddanda Sastrikal, mentioned the Sravana festival. Modern-day historians presume it as ‘Onam’ because Sravana is the Sanskrit name of nakshatra Thiruvonam.
- However, people can find the most recent and clear description of Onam in a European memoir of the 16th century. It mentions that this auspicious celebration occurs in September as a form of devotion to the Goddess of wealth and prosperity, Laxmi.
History and Significance of Onam Festival
- In accordance with Hinduism, Mahabali was the grandson of Prahlada, a Brahmin sage. According to Vaishnavism, he defeated the devas or Gods and conquered the three worlds (tri-Bhuvan). Therefore, the Gods asked help from Lord Vishnu for battling against Mahabali. However, Narayana refused them as Mahabali was a great ruler and his devotee.
- Later on, Mahabali conducted a Yajna (sacrifice ritual) to endow anyone with anything on request. Lord Vishnu utilised this chance to test Mahabali’s fidelity towards him and appeared as a dwarf, Vamana (5th Avatar of Vishnu). The ruler offered everything he could to this dwarf, but he asked only for 3 paces of land. Mahabali agreed to that and saw Vamana grow into a magnanimous size to cover the sky and land completely. As the 3rd pace, the king offered Vamana his head.
- In his disguise of Vamana, Narayana crushed Mahabali to Patala (hell) to put his feet on the 3rd pace he asked for. Nevertheless, pleased by his devotion, the Lord granted him a Boon to be able to visit his previously ruled land once a year. People celebrate this time as the Onam festival in Kerala in tribute and remembrance of the good ruler.
Practice and Celebration of Onam Festival
Below are some rituals and practices to celebrate Onam:
It is a grand procession to start this carnival and occurs at Thrippunithura near Kochi. It is also called Thripunithura Athachamayam.
Music and Dance
This includes Kerala’s traditional Kathakali, Kummattikali, Thiruvathira Kali, Thumbi Thullal, Pulikali or tiger dance, Onam Kali etc. People of different genders perform these different dance types with separate styles of costumes.
Pookkalam or Flower Rangoli
People before the Onam festival gather numerous varieties of flowers to create flower rangoli, Pookkalam. It is also known as Athapookkalam or Onapookkalam.
It is a magnificent boat race between several traditional Keralian snake boats. The most famous races include Nehru Trophy Boat Race and Aranmula Uthrattadhi Boat Race.
It is a grand feast with famous and traditional Keralian food that almost every family tries to attend or arrange.
Onam festival, being colourful, magnificent, and the biggest carnival of Kerala, became an integral part of the Indian festival calendar. In addition, it holds great cultural and religious significance for unravelling several aspects of Indian mythology.
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Frequently Asked Questions about Onam Festival
Which dessert do people indulge in at the Onam festival?
People indulge the special rice pudding or Payasam of Kerala as a dessert in Onam.
Which state celebrates Onam?
Kerala celebrates Onam as its most fantastic festival.
How many days do people celebrate Onam for?
People celebrate Onam in Kerala for 10 days through several rituals and events.
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