Kerala: Onam Festival

Onam is one of the main and most significant Festivals celebrated in Kerala. As India is true multicultural country it is having countless numbers of festivals. There a number of are popular where others are limited to local village and districts. Onam is celebrated all over Kerala and it is considered as State Festival. Onam or Thiruvonam originated as joyous annual memories of the golden rule of King Mahabali, a mythical king, who ruled Kerala a very long time ago. It recalls the sacrifice of the great king, his true devotion to God, his human pride and his ultimate redemption. Kerala onam festival welcomes the spirit of a great king, and assures him that his people are happy and wish him well.

Celebrated during the Malayalam Calendar’s first month, Onam Festival is the leading festival in India’s Kerala State. Marking the legendary King Maveli’s homecoming, the event is related to many traditions and culture of Kerala and lasts for ten days with song, boat races, feasting and merriment. The celebration originated as a festive, annual reminiscence of King Maveli’s golden rule. He is a mythical king that has once ruled the state of Kerala and made a great sacrifice proving his devotion to god. This sacrifice, his ultimate redemption and his human pride are commemorated at this festival. Welcoming this iconic king’s spirit, Onam festival assures the happiness of people as a tribute to him.

The Story of Kerala Onam Festival:

Onam Legend: Onam is connected to a myth or story of old king Mahabali who is said to be ruled Kerala 1000’s of years before. As Hindus Considers Lord Krishna has born around 5000 years back and this story supposed to be happened 1000s of years before the birth of lord Krishna as Vishnu took Vamana form before lord Krishna form. The origin of Kerala Onam Festival is a story connected with a mythical king known as Mahabali and the people in Kerala accept as true that, thousands of years before a king called Mahabali ruled Kerala. As per the story, when Mahabali was ruling Kerala there was no poverty, famine and people never use to lie. Since the king Mahabali’s rule was so good, his name spread all over the earth and the heaven. Due to this, the king of heaven Lord Indra got upset. He thought that if Mahabali’s name spreads like this, soon he will lose the heaven to Mahabali and King Mahabali would become the king of the heaven. So he prayed to Lord Vishnu for help, to protect the heaven from Mahabali (who is a Damon king). Accordingly Lord Vishnu visited King Mahabali in the form of a small Brahmin boy and pushed down him in to a place called Pathalam with his leg. (Pathalam is the world under earth as per Hinduism). However, before pushing down Mahabali in to the Pathalam, Lord Vishnu blessed Mahabali, and permitted him to visit Kerala once in a year as long as the world exists. Kerala people celebrate this day as onam.

Kerala Onam Festival Songs

Onam Festival Songs is normally released with the festival of onam which is celebrated in Kerala state of India. The above king (Mahabali) said to have received a blessing from Lord Vishnu which enabled him to visit his people once in a year even after his time, as long as the world exists. So the Kerala people started celebrating that day with lot of food, games and cultural activities to welcome their beloved king.

This is one of the popular songs is regularly sung over Kerala Onam Festival:

“maveli nadu vaneedum kalam,
manusharellarum onnupole
amodhathode vasikkum kalam
kallavum illa chathiyumilla
ellolamilla polivachanam
kallapparayum cherunazhiyum
kallatharangal mattonnumilla
adhikal vyadhikalonnumilla
balamaranangal kelppanilla”

Kerala Onam Pookalam

Onam Pookalam is the art works done by flowers in front of Kerala house for Onam. It will start from atham star and ends on Onam. The Onam Pookalam has to be removed every day morning, clean the floor and put fresh one in next day with fresh flowers. In olden days the Kerala was totally an agricultural country and the month of chingam is just after the monsoon. So there was plenty of Flowers available to do Onam Pookalam in a grand color. The flowers which were unique in Kerala like thumpapoo, kakkapoo which were available at large at olden days. But these flowers are not even able to seen nowadays. So the creation of Onam Pookalam is greatly depends on imported flowers from neighboring states like Tamilnadu. It is normal that price of flowers going up on Onam Festival season. Lot of Onam Pookalam competition will be conducted by associations in Kerala and outside -in other states and in abroad.

Kerala Onam Sadya:

Onam sadhya is an unavoidable part of any onam celebration. The saying “kanam vitum onam unnanam” in Malayalam which means that “You have to eat onam sadhya even if you have to sell your property for that” underline the importance of onam sadhya in Malayalees mind. Onam Sadya is a vegetarian Rice Lunch provided on a washed and cleaned plantain leaf with curries and side dishes like Sambar, Avial, Rasam etc. All the dishes should be made with Kerala variation of the recipes. Onam sadhya is a great experience to all. Onam also means new clothes for the whole family, sumptuous home-cooked delicacies on plantain leaf and the lingering aroma of the sweet Onam Payasam.

Kerala Onam Celebrations:

Normally in Kerala the Onam Festival is celebrated in houses but in outside Kerala Onam celebrations and functions will be conducted with Malayalees associations. Lot of Malayalees associations are already declared their onam festival celebration for 2011. All this function will host lot cultural programs like bharatnatyam, mohiniyattam, and thiruvathira kali. Onam festival celebrations in Middle East countries like UAE, Kuwait, Oman and other countries like, Singapore, USA, and Australia will be done in bigger manner. Normally either film stars or famous writers will be attended this functions.

Kerala Onam Festivals

Onam Dance:

Thiruvathira kali is one of the main dances for Kerala onam festival. It is performed by group of women with 8, 10, or 12 members. They will be dressed in Kerala Traditional dress and dance with rhythmic steps against thiruvathira songs. Thiruvathira songs will be usually Hindu devotional songs about Krishna or other gods.. Thiruvathira, is a traditional dance. The steps are simple and the dancers sing and move elegantly around a ceremonial lamp (vilakku) or a floral decoration (pookalam). So, wear a Kerala saree and join in this graceful dance.


Onathallu, also known as Kayyankali, is a mock fight to celebrate the arrival of Onam Festival. This is a typical game to prove the physical prowess of the participants. It is an interesting art form for men in which there occurs a duel between two contestants who would beat each other with their open palms, until one fell helpless. Onathallu is much popular in the central parts of Kerala. It seems to be a great antiquity. Performed as part of the Kerala Onam festival celebrations, this is a martial art for entertainment which is similar to that of Kabadi. Central Travancore and the northern regions of Kunnamkulam, Kavassery and Palakkad districts mainly organize competitions of this martial art for the duration of Onam festival.

Pulikali / Kaduvakali

Pulikali is a colorful recreational folk art from the state of Kerala. It is performed by trained artists to entertain people on the occasion of Onam Festival. Pulikali, also known as Kaduvaakali, is a 200 year old art, carefully preserved by the artists of the state. Puli means leopard so the Pulikali means leopard play. As the name means a group of youths dressed as leopards, dance in front of another man dressed as hunter with a gun. The Pulikali will be moving from streets to streets. It is one of the good entertaining programs for the participators as well as for onlookers.

Onam is harvest festival of Kerala:

As Kerala onam festival falls after the harvest of Kerala harvest season which starts from June (Monsoon Rain), some are considering it as harvest festival of Kerala. Onam festival is celebrated over ten days. After the monsoons Kerala is lush green with streams full of water, nature is at its best during the periods of Onam. India is essentially an agricultural country and the Malayalees celebrate Onam to mark the end of the summer monsoons.


Kerala Onam Festival is celebrated by making arts by flowers (Onam Pookalam) in front of house. It starts from atham (10 days behind Thiruvonam). Every day morning the old Onam Pookalam will be removed and fresh one will be made. The size and quality of the Onam Pookalam (Flower art) will increase day by day and on tenth day which is Thiruvonam it will be very grand. On Thiruvonam Malayalees will do Onam Pookalam inside their house, drawing rooms etc. This Onam Pookalam will be removed only on third day.


As the demand of vegetable in onam season usually increase. Due to this the price of Vegetables will go up. To control this normally Kerala government under its civil supply corporation use to start Onam market known as Onachandha. These markets will be stopped after the season. Usually There will be heavy rush and crowds on this market as vegetable will be considerably cheap in these market.

The India Kerala Onam Festival brings a sense of oneness amongst the people and can see only happiness all around. It is a time when families get together in one household. At a time in India when the joint family system is breaking up, everyone comes together, in a way, as a single entity. Children look forward to these ten days of celebration, and the expression of joy on their faces is difficult to describe in just words. Onam is the only one festival which is celebrated by all the religions together. The festival Onam doesn’t have the boundaries of religion, caste, color, ethnic groups etc. So the festival Onam doesn’t concern diversities and can see only the sign of oneness, happiness, and love. So the facts and fables blend as Kerala celebrates Mahabali’s royal return, year after year with the festivities of Onam. All this makes Onam-time a perfect period to visit this coastal state, touted as “Gods Own Country“. No wonder the Government of Kerala has declared this time every year as Tourism Week.

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13 thoughts on “Kerala: Onam Festival

  1. vcachachen

    really good, but extendable

  2. K.V.Shashidhara

    It is a fantastic festival.

  3. Naman

    Thank u for the wonderful explanation on the topic like onam

  4. Lithin. V

    Ente Keralam Ethra Sundharam,!!!!!!!!!!

  5. Subilan

    thank you

  6. Rahul C H, Ponnore

    Nice to read ,
    Include some more images

  7. Shraddha


  8. ps sisters


  9. m v gopalakrishnan

    more can be added, any way it is good.

  10. Christopher James

    Good Photos…thank u..

  11. Onam sadhya is an unavoidable part of any onam celebration. The saying “kanam vitum onam unnanam” in Malayalam which means that “You have to eat onam sadhya even if you have to sell your property for that” underline the importance of onam sadhya in Malayalees mind. Onam Sadya is a vegetarian Rice Lunch provided on a washed and cleaned plantain leaf with curries and side dishes like Sambar, Avial, Rasam etc. All the dishes should be made with Kerala variation of the recipes. Onam sadhya is a great experience to all.

  12. Suresh Balakrishnan

    Fantastic compilation of facts, history revealed in simple words, yet with great importance. Thankyou, proud to be a malayalee, & to have born in Gods own country.

  13. suganya

    wow super!!!!!

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