Onam Festival

Onam Festival

An ancient festival that takes place in mostly Southern India, Onam is a festival that is derived from the Sanskrit work Shravanam which represents the 27 nakshatras or the constellations. Although the festival of Onam is a Hindu festival people from all religions celebrate the festival because of its extremely exciting and fun rituals. The two most important days of the festivals are the first day of Atham and the last day of Thiru Onam.

Onam race aerial

Onam race aerial

History of the Festival:

Onam festival is mainly celebrated to welcome Mahabali, the original king of the state of Kerala. Legend states that Mahabali was one in the middle of a yagna or a ritual when a young and radiant boy came up to the area of ritual. Mahabali’s attention directly reached the boy. The young boy was actually an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Mahabali politely asked the boy to ask him what he wished for. The boy asked the great king for just that much land that three of his steps would cover.

Astonished by the request Mahabali granted it to the boy, no sooner did the young boy turn into his true form of Vamana, Lord Vishnu. He initially took a step of the earth and later he took a step of the sky. Mahabali realised that he was a lord and offered him his head in order to take the last step, as a showcase of devotion and surrender. As soon as this happened Lord Vishnu also promised Mahabali that he would now become the next Indra of Manvantara and also guard the gates to this particular place.

He was also promised that once every year he would return back to his kingdom from Pathala and spend that much time amid his people and surroundings. These days are marked as the auspicious and holy days of the Onam Festival.

Rituals and traditions followed during Onam:

The festival of Onam is a time for the utmost level of celebrations to welcome their king Mahabali. The following are a few of the rituals, traditions, festivals and celebrations that are performed by the people during Onam.

Tripunithura Athachamayam:

The Tripunithura Athachamayam is more of a parade that is in order to bring in the grand celebrations of the festival. During the parade one can often come across the elephants that are dressed and decorated beautifully with jewelry, paint and garlands along with their mahouts. In addition to the grand parade there are also local musicians, artsmen and craftsmen who engage themselves in the practice of performing for the great entry of Mahabali.


The Pookalam is a ritual that is performed in the households of people who rejoice in the festival of Onam. The Pookalam is a sort of rangoli that is usually made by the women in the households, using different and an exotic range of flowers and petals to make the pookalam look beautiful and eye-catching.

Pookalam at Onam

Pookalam at Onam


The Pulikali is often referred to as the tiger dance. This dance was passed on by a Kochi king who initially started this as a way to showcase the manliness of a person. During this celebration thousands of men dressed as tigers come out on the street and dance with the aim of showcasing the 200 year old tradition of the state.

Onam Sadya:

Any festival seems incomplete without the delicacies of the festival. The Onam Sadya is the traditional Onam meal that is made by the people and definitely highlights the festival as a whole. The meal is served on the local banana leaf of Kerala with 11 courses. The 11 meal course is filled with the local and special food of the state and festival.

Onam Sadya

Food in Onam

Folk Dances:

To renounce the festival spread joyfulness and happiness in the surroundings, during the festival of Onam several people go on the streets to celebrate the festival by dancing and singing.

Celebrations during Onam

Celebrations during Onam

The Onam Boat Race:

The Vallamkali, popularly referred to as the Onam Boat race is one of the major attractions during the grand festival of Onam. The boat race is celebrated by the people when around 100 boatmen compete in a boat race along the Pampi river of the state of Kerala. These boats that they compete in are beautifully decorated, painted and garnished with flowers and paints.

The history of the boat race dates back to 400 years ago when a king of kerala, Allepy fought several beatles in the canals of the state. During the times of the war the King suffered a great loss when he asked one of his architects to build a boat for him that would last him through the war and hence incur him fewers losses. This was when The architect made a snake boat that is used during the festival of Onam even now.

The snake boat race also has men and women who travel from all over the world to witness the grand event. The snake boat race winner is also awarded with the nehru trophy at the end of the festival. All these things make the Vallamkali an extremely integral part of not only the Onam Festival but also the cultures and tradition of Kerala.

Onam boat race

Onam boat race

International Participation:

The festival of Onam is not only celebrated in the state of Kerala but is also celebrated by the people outside the state in parts of the country.

In addition to this the Onam festival is celebrated around the world too in places like UAE, France, United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia and United states of America.

In Singapore the Snake Boat race also takes place during Onam in the Jurong lake.

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