Sunday, January 17, 2010


Onam, the harvest festival, is celebrated in Kerala during the Malayalam month of Chingam (August-September). This year it will be celebrated on Sept. 12. It is celebrated to commemorate the homecoming of King Mahabali, considered as a be-loved ruler. Onam recalls the sacrifice of the great king, his devotion towards God, hum-bling of his pride and his final redemption. The name Mahabali means ‘Great Sacrifice.’
Onam was recognised as the Main Regional Festival of Kerala in 1961. The festival is a ten-day celebration involving Pookalam, boat races, dances, carnivals, cultural prog-rammes, sports, culminating with the traditional meal called Onasadya. Spectacular parades of caparisoned elephants, fireworks and Kathakali dance are traditionally associated with Onam. The tenth day, Thiru Onam, is considered most auspicious .
Origin of Onam
Along time ago, a demon king (Asura) called Mahabali ruled over the region which is now known as Kerala. Though he belonged to an Asura dynasty, he was an ardent devotee of Lord Vishnu.
Mahabali was the son of Veerochana and grandson of Bhakta Prahlada (son of demon King Hiranyakashyap who was slayed by Lord Vishnu in his Narasimha Avatar).
Mahabali was a benevolent, judicious ruler. But he was a greedy conqueror. His subjects were quite happy. There was no sorrow, poverty, disease or untimely death in his kingdom. His bravery and strength of character earned him the title “Mahabali Chakravarthy” - the King of Kings.
Soon, his fame as an able king spread far and wide. Gods began to fear that he might become Aditi (the King of Devas) and pleaded with Lord Vishnu to curtail Mahabali’s powers and pride. Lord Vishnu took his fifth avatar as ‘Vamana’ (a poor dwarf Brahmin) and appeared in the Kingdom of Mahabali while he was performing an Ashwamedha Yaga and asked for a piece of land.
The generous King said he could have as much as land he wants. Vamana said that he wanted only three steps of land. The King was surprised to hear this, but agreed.
The wise sage Shukracharya, Guru of Mahabali, advised him not to promise the land, as he realised the seeker was not an ordinary person. But Bali told the Guru that it will be a great sin on the part of a King to go back on his words and asked the Brahmin to take the three steps.
The next moment, the dwarf Vamana began expanding his body and with his first step he covered the whole earth, with the other he covered the skies and asked Mahabali where to keep his third foot. Realising that he was not an ordinary Brahmin, the King immediately offered his head for Vamana to place his last step.
Vamana placed his third step on the head of the King, pushing him to Patala (netherworld). The King requested the Brahmin to reveal his true identity. Lord Vishnu then appeared before the King in his true form. Before bani-shing Mahabali to the underworld, Vishnu granted him a boon to visit Kerala once in a year, as he was very much attached to his kingdom and his people and said that he would be always loved by his people. Hence, the visit of Mahabali is celebrated as Onam every year.
Ten days of carnival
Onam is celebrated for ten days. To welcome their reve-red ruler, people lay flower mats (Pookalam) in the front courtyard, prepare a grand meal, dance, play and make merry. All this is done to impress upon King Mahabali that his people are prosperous and happy. Thiru Onam corresponds to the Shravana day and hence called Shravanotsavam.
Athachamyam is a grand procession that marks the beginning of Onam on the day of Atham at Thripunithura and Piravam. The event recalls a royal tradition when Maharajas of erstwhile Kochi State traveled to the Thripu-nithura Fort with their entire entourage. Today, even in the absence of the King, the custom retains its regal charm.
Onam celebrations are marked in Trikkakara, a place 10 km from Kochi (Cochin). Trikkakara is said to be the capital of the mighty King Mahabali. A temple with the deity of ‘Trikkakara Appan’ or ‘Vamanamurthy’, the Lord Vishnu in disguise, is also located at this place.
Atham - Day One: The first day ‘Atham’ is considered as very auspicious. On this day, a preparation for Pookkallam (flower carpet) begins. Attha Poo is prepared in the front courtyard to welcome the spirit of King Mahabali and a grand procession called Athachamyam will be held.
Chithira - Day Two: On this day, the size of Pookkallam will be increased with different flowers.
Chodhi - Day Three: Size of the Attha Poo gets further increased with an addition of different flowers. The markets get crowded as people buy new apparels, accessories etc. to decorate the household.
Visakam - Day Four: Making of various types of pickles and pappadams (papad) begins now.
Anizham - Day Five: The major highlight on this day is Vallamkali. The hugely popular competition happens on the banks of river Pampa at Aranmulla.
Thriketa - Day Six: On this sixth day of Onam, people who have migrated to other places visit their homes to celebrate the festival with their family.
Moolam - Day Seven: With just two days left for the festival, people get excited about the grand extravaganza.
Pooradam - Day Eight: Devotees create idols of deities by using clay in the shape of small pyramids.
Uthradam - Day Nine: People start making special arrangements to welcome Mahabali. Tenants and in-habitants of Tarawads (traditional large joint family sharing a common kitchen and consisting of more than a hundred people) give presents to Karanavar, the eldest member of the family. This gift is called ‘Onakazhcha’.
Thiru Onam - Day Ten: People believe that on this day Lord Mahabali comes to visit his people. A special meal called Onasadya is prepared. It is a nine course meal consisting of 11 to 13 essential dishes served on banana leaves. It consists rice, a number of side-dishes like curries, upperies, pappadams, uppilittathu and achchars (pickles of various kinds), chammanthi (chutney), payasams and prathamans (puddings) arranged in a definite order.
Conical shaped figures are prepared from clay and painted red. These are decorated with a paste made of rice flour and water and are placed in the front court yard and other important places in the house. Some are in the shape of cone and others represent gods. Those in the shape of a cone are called, ‘Trikkakara Appan’.
Onam Games
The Grand Boat Race Vallamkali: Held on river Pampa in graceful Snake Boats called Chun-dans are named after their excee-dingly long hulls and high sterns that resemble the raised hood of a cobra.
Onakalikal: It is a collective name for the numerous games played on Onam. After a sumptuous Onasadhya meal, members of the family participate in the games of Talappanthukali, Kayyankali, Archery or Ambeyyal, Kutukutu, others like Pulikali, Kum-mattikali, Thumbi Thullal, Kaikotti kali, Vallam kali etc.
Onam Dance
Kummattikali: It is a colorful mask-dance. The dancers go dancing from house to house. The major character is Thalla or Witch while others represent the various deities. Songs are accompanied by a bow like instrument called Onvillu; Pulikali / Kaduvakali: Pulikali means ‘play of the tigers’, the per-formance revolve around the theme of tiger hunting. It is also known as Kaduvaakali, a 200- year- old art.; Kathakali: The word Kathakali literally means “Story-Play”; It is known for its heavy, elaborate makeup and costumes. It presents themes derived from Hindu epicse Here, entire body, both skeleton and muscles, down to even the smallest facial muscle are used to portray emotion. Kaikottikali: Kaikottikali, also known as thiruvathirakali, is symmetric group-dance of the women with Thiruvathira songs. Thumbithullal: Thumbi Thullal is a folk dance performed by a group of women who sit in the formation of a circle.
Onam celebrations in Mysore
To commemorate the onam festival Kerala Samaja, Mysore usually conducts three programmes like Onam fare, Onam feast and cultural programs.
Onam Fare: Items from Kerala will be brought for the sale purpose. This will be held at NGO Hall, Vijayanagar from September 9 to 11. Here one can avail all the items which are needed for the feast. The items will be brought from kerala.
Onam Feast: Its nothing but get together programme, the cook will bought from Kerala and will prepare the Kerala dishes were in most of the Kera- lites will be seen on the occasion.
Cultural Program: Cultural program will be held on October 12, this is because most of the people will not be available on these days as they are away to their native places to celebrate the feast.

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