Every Indian State has unique regional celebrations and Onam is the most important festival observed in the Southern state of Kerala. Onam is a harvest festival that falls on the first month of the Malayalam calendar called Chingam. Keralites have observed Onam festival over ages and it is not uncommon to find people belonging to all faiths observing the traditions of Onam. Malayalees in India and abroad celebrate Onam festival with much gaiety.
Onam is a ten day long festival and the final day called Thiruonam is the most important day filled with activity, fun and frolic. Keralites prepare for the festival by cleaning their homes and purchasing traditional attire to wear on the festival day. The state witnesses a frenzy of activities with people preparing for the grand celebrations.
Here are some of the most interesting aspects that mark Onam celebrations.
A floral arrangement adorns floors of houses of Keralites on Thiruonam. Known as Pookolam, this decoration resembles Rangoli with the only difference that flowers are used to create floor patterns instead of color powder. At times lamp stands are placed on the Pookolam as a further embellishment. Pookolam is the most sought after activity of the day for women and young girls and many competitions are held to find the most elegant Pookolams. It is interesting to note that even Indians in other states conduct Pookolam competitions and mark the day with at least a small floral pattern on their floors on Onam.
Like any other Indian festival, Onam too calls for the best of Indian menus. A special meal called Onasadya is prepared and served on Thiruonam. Comprising of traditional delicacies, Onasadya is a treat for the taste buds with the best of Kerala cuisine. Onasadya is served on banana leaves and is eaten seated on the floor.
The Snake Boat Race or Vallamkali is an important sport that happens during the Onam Festival. Extravagantly decorated narrow, long boats ridden by several men contend in this traditional race. The appearance of these boats resembles that of snakes and so the race has been called the Snake Boat Race. This is a tourist attraction with people from abroad as well as other parts of the country cheering up the boat race.
Playing games is a much sought after part of Onam celebrations and these games are collectively known as Onakalikal. Traditional, modern, indoor and outdoor games are played after tucking into the sumptuous Onasadya. Men and women of all ages cluster into groups for their favorite games. It is Onam Festival that keeps traditional games alive till now.
Besides these, Malayalee women perform traditional dances and enjoy the Onam festival. Dressed in traditional beige sarees with colorful blouses, their graceful moves are a delight to watch.
Onam festival has played an important part in preserving the cultural heritage of Kerala. The festival is gaining immense popularity especially with efforts being made to encourage tourism during this season to showcase the traditions of Kerala, South India.
Picture courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Here is a handy recipe book on festival cooking.
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