India is a diverse country, diverse in its culture, diverse in its languages, diverse in its religion and diverse in its festivities. Even in such diverse cultures, it is the traditions that binds us together, the excitement to witness each other’s traditions, the respect for each culture, the joy of celebrating so many festivals. The same sheer excitement and the urge to live the Malayalam tradition was fulfilled when I got the opportunity to work in Trivandrum and live there for almost 2 years. And my favorite time of year while I was in South was August. the ONAM time. Grand festivities around and the air of excitement.
Onam festival marks the homecoming of legendary Asura King Mahabali who ruled the state. The history states that the Mahabali, even though an Asura or Demon, was greatly worshiped by his people. The state flourished and everyone was happy and prosperous under his reign. It is said that Kerala had its golden era under the rule of King Mahabali but due to his egoistic nature, Mahabali was defeated by Gods. Owed to his generosity as a ruler, the Gods allowed him to visit his people once in a year and thus to mark the home coming of Mahabali, people of Kerala started celebrating Onam with great pomp and show to show the king their gratitude.
The Onam celebrations usually last up to 1 week or 10 days. The grand celebration of Onam includes Vallamkali or the famous snake boat race, Onakalikal which means playing some rigorous sports, Pookalam which is a floral Rangoli or design made of flower petals in front of courtyards of every house to welcome the king. Kaikotti and Thambi Thullal are the dance forms performed during the grand celebration day. The festival is concluded by hosting a grand feast where Sadhaya or the traditional Kerala food is served.
The onset of Onam set the feeling of excitement among people. The excitement to buy tradition 2-piece white sarees with beautiful boarders and the white mund (dhoti) and then getting dressed as best as you can on the last day, with ‘gajra’ or small floral garland adorning your hair, and wearing your beautiful jewelries. The whole state carries the scent of flowers used in Pokalam. Everyone dance on the beat of dhol and watch the act performed by artist, watch the tiger dance known as Pulikali and then indulge in the 9-course vegetarian meal popularly known as Sadhya served traditionally on Banana Leaf that have varieties of pickle and authentic Kerala curries served with Papadam and rice and concluded by 3 to 5 varieties of Paysam.