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KERALA TOURISM NEWSLETTER

ISSUE: 203

JULY 2010

Onam

The festival of Onam is celebrated throughout the state of Kerala. Kerala during Onam is marked by happiness, excitement and enjoyment among all sections of people. Onam is celebrated as an outcome of reasons that have to do with mythology as well as old agrarian practices. If one is to go by the myth, then King Mahabali or Maveli was a generous and virtuous ruler, who had once ruled Kerala. During his rule, the kingdom became so prosperous that devas (gods of the Heaven) felt jealous about this and also for the reason that King Mahabali was an asura - a member of the demon clan - who were the enemies of devas. So, they sent Lord Vishnu in the guise of Vamana (a dwarf) to King Mahabali. As an offering from the generous king, Vamana requested Mahabali for three feet of land. And at the time of measuring the three feet of land, Vamana grew so huge that he measured all the worlds in two steps. Since he had nowhere else to place his third step, Mahabali asked Vamana to place it on his head. Pleased by his benevolence, Vamana blessed Mahabali before he was sent to the nether world and granted him permission to visit his dear subjects once in a year. This occasion is celebrated by all Keralites as Onam.

And the other cause for celebrating Onam is because it is the time of the year when a good harvest has been gathered all over Kerala, resulting in plenitude and happiness.

The celebrations for Onam are held for ten days, beginning with the atham asterism in the month of Chingam (August / September) as per the local calendar. This is a period when Kerala comes alive with elephant processions, classical and folk dance performances, music recitals, cultural pageants, boat races and much more!

There are certain events that mark the beginning of Onam festivities in Kerala. The events like Athachamayam and the festivities at Thrikkakara temple are prominent among these.

Athachamayam at Thripunithura
Athachamayam marks the beginning of the ten-day Onam festival in Kerala. Held every year on the Atham asterism in the month of Chingam, the event is held in the historical town of Thripunithura. This event was earlier held as a celebration to mark the legendary victory of the former king of Kochi. In olden days it was customary for the king to travel with his entire entourage to the Thripunithura Palace. This was also the occasion for his subjects to greet the king and see him at close quarters. The procession, nowadays without the king, still retains its royal elegance and is conducted in a riveting manner. Caparisoned elephants, folk art forms, floats, and musical ensembles form part of this colourful procession, which sets the tone for Onam celebrations in other parts of Kerala.

Festivities at Thrikkakara Temple
The array of events that mark the arrival of Onam at the Thrikkakara Temple in Ernakulam forms part of the traditions related to the festival of Onam in Kerala. This temple, dedicated to Vamanamoorthy, one of the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu is closely associated with King Mahabali and Onam. It is one of the few temples in Kerala where Onam is celebrated in a grand manner.

As part of the Onam festivities, the temple at Thrikkakara witnesses many interesting rituals. Some of these are para nirakkal (filling up a large measuring vessel with fresh paddy), which symbolises fertility and prosperity. Another main event of the festivities here is the grand traditional feast (sadya) attended by thousands.

Pulikali
Every year, Pulikali is held on Swaraj Round right in the heart of the Thrissur town as part of Onam festival celebrations. Puli in Malayalam means leopard and kali in this particular event means dance and merry making. This is one such event that continues to cheer and entertain the onlookers. Even though Pulikali is held in different parts of Kerala throughout the days of Onam festival, the one held in Thrissur is quite outstanding for the huge number of performers and also its presentation style.

For the performance, men would have their bodies and faces painted to resemble leopards, tigers and even lions. They move in groups and would dance to the tune of percussionists accompanying them. During the course of their movement those playing the role of tigers, leopards and lions would perform scenes inside a forest where they try to evade the eyes of a gun-wielding hunter. It is the riot of colours, the pulsating rhythm and the cheering of the crowds that make Pulikali held in Thrissur one of the trademark celebrations of Onam in Kerala.

Government - sponsored celebrations
In Kerala, government-sponsored Onam celebrations are also held, besides the traditional ones held in temples, houses, village grounds and those by youth organisations and clubs.

Government - sponsored celebrations are held for a week in Thiruvananthapuram City, the state capital with other districts also having celebrations. A variety of cultural shows, held in different venues would have the locals turning up in large numbers to enjoy and have a good time together with families and friends. This is also an occasion for travelers who could witness a cross-section of cultural events and entertainments with a distinct flavour of Onam. Rounding out the state-level celebrations is the colourful and grand pageantry held on the last day of the Onam festival in the capital city of Thiruvananthapuram.

  Topics: Festval   Onam   Ernakulam  

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