Onam 2019: Interesting facts about the harvest festival of Kerala

Updated: Sep 11, 2019, 12:03 IST | mid-day online correspondent | Mumbai

Onam, the official state festival of Kerala, is an event that all Keralites eagerly wait for. Here's a quick look at the significance, traditions and rituals of the festival

This picture has been for representational purposes. Pic/AFP
This picture has been for representational purposes. Pic/AFP

Onam, the harvest festival of Kerala instantly makes one crave for an elaborate meal served in a plantain leaf. Like most festivals in the country, even during Onam, food is one of the major attractions but the festival is much more than just food. Celebrated in Kerala, Onam is a traditional festival that is known to bring people together in every possible way, be it to prepare and satiate a hearty and flavourful meal, to draw a colourful atthapookalum (traditional flower rangoli) at one’s house’s doorstep, to perform traditional dance, or even to spend some quality time together with family and friends. It is celebrated not just by the locals in Kerala but also the Keralite diaspora residing across the world.

Significance of the festival

The festival celebrates the golden reign of King Mahabali, a mythological king who ruled Kerala. If the legends are to be believed, King Mahabali was the people’s king and ruled their hearts. Even the gods were jealous of him because he was being praised by the people. One day, Lord Vishnu, in the form of a dwarf Brahmin boy named Vamana, approached him and asked him for three pieces of land. When the humble king agreed, Vamana grew into a giant, covering the land and the sky that made up for two pieces of land. For the third piece, Mahabali bowed down and offered his head and Vamana, sent him to the netherworld by placing his foot on him. But looking at his devotion towards the deity and his humility, Vamana granted him a boon, that allowed him to visit his subjects for one day every year. Thus, the day marks as a celebration as people draw elaborate floral rangolis called ‘atthapookalam’ to welcome King Mahabali to their households and treat him with scrumptious meals.

Also Read: Narendra Modi, Vice President Naidu greet people on occasion of Onam

Dressed in white and gold

On the days running up to the festival, revellers flock toshops to buy gifts and groceries alike. Gifts, known as Onakodi for this occasion, are exchanged among each and every member of a family. It can be gifting a sari or a pair of white kurta or shirt or mundu for the elders or pattu pavada for the young girls of the family. As Onam is the official state festival of Kerala, it is only apt that revellers wear the traditional mundu and Kerala sarees for the occasion. The white-and-gold fabric, known as Kasavu is particularly worn for the festival as it is cultural costume for Keralites. Women of the household wearing Kasavu sarees and drawing the attapookalam are a sight to behold! The women also wear the sarees as a costume while dancing the Thiruvathirakali around the floral carpet.

onamChildren gathered flowers to prepare floral carpets. Pic/PTI

Onam Sadhya - the festive meal

The most prominent part of the festival is the Onam Sadhya or Onasadhya - an elaborate traditional meal. This flavourful vegetarian three-course feast is served on plantain leaves that leaves you all filled up. The three-course lavish meal is served as starters, main course and dessert. For starters, vazhakka upperi (salted plantain chips) are served with jaggery-dipped plantain chips called sharkaravaratty. In the main course, rice is served with sambar,  a concoction of vegetables called aviyal, stir-fried vegetables, hot-and-sweet ginger concoction called pulinji and mild yet spiced cucumber curry known as pachadi, along with cut mango or hot lime pickles and crispy pappadam and top it off with an elaichi banana. The meal ends on a sweet note with a cup of ada pradaman or payasam made of a variety of ingredients to cleanse one’s palette. In some households, the meal ends with a serving of rice, curd, sugar, mashed banana and pappadam.

Also Read: Sadhya with a healthy twist-Where to find the best of Onasadhya in Mumbai 

onamStudents pose near a swing during Onam celebrations. Pic/PTI

Party games and cultural programmes

The celebration is taken out of the house and on the ground with a variety of games. In Kerala, boat races are held on one of the days of the festival were boat clubs participate are cheered by the locals are tourists alike. The prominent ones are the Nehru boat race held in the picturesque backwaters of Alappuzha and the Aranmula Boat race held at River Pampa, amid the lush greenery of the district of Pathanamthitta. A local version of the popular game of tug-of-war, known as vadamvali is also played among the revellers. Processions are held with people participating in a dance called pulikali where men paint their bodies in bright hues of red, orange and yellow with stripes resembling a tiger, and dance on the tunes of the traditional chenda-melam. Temples organise plays based on mythological stories performed in traditional art forms of Kathakali and theyyam where artists paint their faces as per the characters. On similar lines, Onam is celebrated by the Keralite diaspora in the city with much pomp and fervour abiding the traditions as much as they can. 

 mid-day wishes its reader a very happy Onam!

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