It is enough for one to try and understand the many festive occasions in Kerala in order to get familiar with Kerala’s history, culture and heritage. And the festival of Onam is a grand event for Keralites.
There is a myth behind Onam. Long time ago, Kerala was ruled by a demon king by the name of Mahabali, who had conquered all the three worlds. He always cared for the welfare of his subjects, the fame of which envied the gods and lessened their significance. The gods sought the help of Lord Vishnu for regaining their glory and significance. Lord Vishnu agreed to their request. He took the form of Vaamana (a dwarf Brahmin) and requested King Mahabali to grant 3 foot of land for meditation purpose. As Vaamana began to measure, he assumed a massive form and measured two foot of Mahabali’s kingdom and asked him about the third. To this, Mahabali lowered his head and Vaamana placed his foot on his head and was sent to the nether world. The opportunity granted to Mahabali by Vaamana to visit his subjects once a year is celebrated as Thiruvonam, the most auspicious day of the Onam festival.
Onam also heralds the New Year for Malayalees. It is also the harvest festival of the State, starting from Atham asterism and concluding on the Thiruvonam asterism. The ten-day festival is marked by floral carpets (pookalam) at households, giving of new clothes (onakodi) and grand traditional feast (onasadya).
During Onam people engage in various entertainments. Boat race (vallam kali) is one of them, the thrill of which is to finish first by singing vanchi pattu (song of the boat). Boat races are confined to southern districts of Kerala like Alappuzha, Kottayam and Pathanamthitta.
Thiruvathirakali, also known as Kaikottikali, is a women’s group dance, quite popular during Onam.