Onam, an annual festival celebrated with great enthusiasm in the Indian state of Kerala, is a blend of rich cultural traditions and vibrant festivities. This festival will be celebrated between 20 Aug to 31 Aug of 2023 which marks the commemoration of the mythical King Mahabali, who is believed to return to Kerala during this time.
Significance of Onam:
The significance of Onam lies in its ability to bring people together, regardless of religion and caste. It represents unity, peace, and prosperity, all of which were hallmarks of King Mahabali’s reign. Onam is celebrated with a grand feast, Onasadya, comprising various traditional dishes served on banana leaves. It is a testament to Kerala’s rich culinary heritage.
Onam marks the beginning of the annual harvest season in Kerala and is celebrated to express gratitude for a bountiful harvest. It is also a time for families to come together, renew bonds, and celebrate their cultural heritage. The festival holds deep social and spiritual significance, reflecting the values and beliefs of the Malayali people.
The reference to the Onam festival is found in a Sangam-era Tamil poem called Maturaikkāñci dating back centuries. However, the Malayali people embraced Onam as their own, making it an integral part of their culture and identity. The festival is believed to have originated during the reign of Kulasekhara Perumals, with records dating back to ancient times.
Rituals and Traditions:
Onam is characterized by various rituals and traditions that are enthusiastically followed. One of the most iconic events is the boat race, known as Vallamkali, where beautifully decorated traditional boats compete in thrilling races. This event showcases the spirit of unity, teamwork, and the love for water, which is abundant in the backwaters of Kerala.
Another essential aspect of Onam is the creation of pookalams, intricate floral designs made with various colorful flowers. These stunning floral arrangements adorn the entrance of homes and signify prosperity, beauty, and a welcoming atmosphere. The pookalams are created with great precision and creativity, with each design unique.
The grand feast known as Onam Sadhya is the highlight of the Onam festival. This traditional vegetarian feast consists of various dishes served on a banana leaf. From mouthwatering curries to delectable desserts, the Sadhya represents the culinary richness of Kerala. It is a symbol of abundance, togetherness, and communal harmony.
At the heart of Onam lies the legend of King Mahabali, who is revered as a compassionate ruler. According to mythology, King Mahabali ruled Kerala during a golden era where happiness and prosperity prevailed. However, his reign was eventually challenged by Lord Vishnu, who took on the form of Vamana, a dwarf Brahmin.
In a test of devotion, Vamana asked for three paces of land from King Mahabali. The generous king agreed, and Vamana grew to immense proportions, covering the entire universe in two steps. For his humility and selflessness, King Mahabali was granted a boon to visit his kingdom once a year. Onam is celebrated as the homecoming of King Mahabali, with the people of Kerala welcoming him with open hearts.
How to celebrate Onam in 2023?
To celebrate Onam, people engage in various activities such as boat racing, mask dancing, and creating colorful floral arrangements known as Pookalam. The snake boat race is particularly popular, drawing spectators from all over the world. Vallamkali, as it is locally known, features long, canoe-like boats filled with up to 100s of rowers, drummers, and helmsman.
Mask dances, also known as Kummatti Kali, are also a significant aspect of Onam. Performers don captivating masks and costumes, dancing to the rhythm of traditional folk music. Then there’s the Pookalam, floral arrangements created on the ground to welcome King Mahabali. Each day of Onam sees a new layer added to the Pookalam, culminating in a vibrant display of intricate designs and patterns.
Moreover, people celebrate Onam by exchanging gifts with their loved ones. From clothing to precious jewelry, there are a variety of gifts one can choose from. Many companies also offer discounts and special deals during this time of the year, making it easier for people to go shopping and enjoy the festivities to the fullest.
Food dishes prepared on Onam:
Onam is incomplete without its traditional food dishes. The most popular dish of all is the Sadhya, a delicious combination of over two dozen vegetarian dishes served on a banana leaf. Other traditional Onam dishes include Avial (mixed vegetable curry), Kaalan (a yogurt-based dish), Olan (pumpkin and black-eyed peas in coconut milk), and Payasam (a sweet dessert made from rice, milk, and sugar). All these dishes make Onam a truly scrumptious affair!
To summarize, Onam is an important festival in Kerala that celebrates the annual homecoming of King Mahabali. From boat races to mask dances, Pookalam decorations to delicious traditional food dishes, there are many ways to enjoy Onam with your loved ones. By celebrating this festival, we can keep King Mahabali’s memory alive and cherish his legacy of kindness and goodwill.