Onam Festival 2014 - Onam Celebrations and Attractions

Onam is a very important festival for the people of Kerala. The festival marks a time for unity among friends and family. There are a number of attractions and unique celebrations that are a part of Onam festival. Read this article to know all the Onam celebrations in detail.

<b>Onam</b> is the most important festival for the people of Kerala state. Apart from marking the arrival of King Mahabali, it is also a time for people to come from afar to celebrate the festival together with family and friends. Keralites believe that on this day, the legendary King Mahabali makes a visit to their state 'God's own country'. This festival goes on for ten days where the tenth day falls on the Thiruvonam nakshatram (star) of Chingam month which is the first month in the Malayalam calendar. The date for Onam festival usually falls on any day in August or September. As mentioned before, celebrations for the festival starts ten days before the actual day itself. The festival is marked with special attractions such as Ona pookalam (a design on the floor made with flowers), traditional dances (such as kaikottikali, puli kali etc), traditional games (such as Kayyankali, Attakalam etc), snake boat races and a grand banquet. Almost every house in Kerala and even restaurants arrange an elaborate feast for the main day of the festival. It is also a day to wear and gift new clothes. The shopping for buying clothes for each and every member in the family begins almost a month before Onam. Almost all the shops and complexes in Kerala sell their products and textiles at a very good sale price.<h2>Onam attractions and celebrations</h2>1. <b>Pookalam</b> - <img src='http://www.SpiderKerala.net/attachments/Resources/7727-24037-Pookalam.jpg' alt='Pookalam' align='right' style='padding:10px'>The first day of Onam festival starts on the day of Attam nakshatram. For all the ten days, the people of the house wake up early in the morning, pick flowers (or buy them from the shop) and make pookalam designs on the verandah (entrance of their homes) of their homes. It is considered auspicious to make such floral designs at the entrance of the homes. Another name for pookalam is Athapoovu. Competitions are held in many organisations such as schools, colleges and even at offices to see who can make the best and the most beautiful pookalam. The one which is selected is rewarded with a grand prize. During these competitions, people are divided into teams and the team which makes the best pookalam wins. A lot of dedication and hard work can be seen put by the teams during such competitions. Even young children take part in making the designs with a lot of enthusiasm. They help their parents and elder siblings to pick and collect flowers from their gardens. Some people who are creatively very good at making such designs do it in very complicated ways which makes them look all the more attractive. Those who are very artistic and imaginative make pictures on the designs such as a peacock, Lord Krishna, parrots etc. They are able to make the designs with the sketch already drawn in their minds whereas those who are not so creative need to first draw the sketch on a paper (nowadays designs are made on computer) and then copy it onto the floor as a design made with the flowers.There is no hard and fast rule that the design should always be very beautiful or exquisite. It can also be a very small design and is just a sign for welcoming King Mahabali. The pookalam designs are always made in circular shapes with flowers of various types, shapes and colours. Another factor about pookalam is that artificial flowers or powdered colours are not allowed to be used to make the designs. In olden days, people used to take the pains of waking up early in the morning and walking around their gardens and neighbourhood to collect all the beautiful flowers that they can find in order to make the pookalam. But nowadays everything is available very easily. During the Onam season, there are numerous stalls and shops which sell these flowers in bulk. The proper way of making an Onam pookalam is by making a small design on the first day of Onam and then slowly and gradually the design should be made bigger and bigger so that on the tenth day, it will become a really big pookalam. But nowadays not many people follow this rule. After one day is over, they throw away the flowers and make another one on the next day. Some of the flowers that are used for making a pookalam design includes thumba (lucas aspera), kakka poovu, thechipoovu, hanuman kireedom, chethi and chemparathy. Out of all these flowers, the most importance is given to the thumba poo as people believe that it is the most beloved flower of Lord Shiva and King Mahabali (who was an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva). 2. <b>Onam dances</b> - Kerala is famous for some of its traditional dances such as Kathakali and Kaikottikali. These dances are performed during the festival of Onam. Some of the special dances of Onam festival include Kaikottikali, Puli kali, Thumbi Thullal, Kathakali and Kummati kali. Kaikottikali is the most important dance of the festival which is also known a Thiruvathirakali. It is a graceful dance mostly performed by middle aged women in a circular fashion (clockwise and anti-clockwise) around a nilavilakku (a huge coconut-fed oil lamp). Puli kali is also known as Kaduvakali. It is a recreational folk art in which people paint their bodies with colourful designs of a puli (tiger) and dance on the streets to the rhythmic beats of traditional instruments. The face of the dancers are also covered with masks of tigers. Many people gather along the streets to watch these dances. Kathakali is a very unique form of dance and is the most famous dance of Kerala. It is an art comprising a balanced combination of drama, music and dance. Kathakali is a very difficult art form to master and needs a lot of experience, dedication and talent. There is a kalamandalam (dance theatre) in the Cheruthuruthy district of Kerala where Kathakali is taught and is given the most importance. The art form depicts stories from the Ramayana and Mahabharata. Thumbi Thullal is a folk dance performed by women on the occasion of Onam festival. In this dance also, the women move in circles around a person who sits in the centre of the circle holding a bunch of leaves called Thumba (the leaves of the thumbapoo) leaves. Kummatikali is also similar to Puli kali as in that this art form also contains colourful masked people but the difference is that they don't dress up like tigers. Kummatikali people move from house to house on the occasion of Onam to entertain people and also to collect little money or gifts.<a href='http://spiderkerala.net/resources/7715-Traditional-Dances-Onam-festival.aspx'>Read about the traditional Onam dances in detail</a>3. <b>Onam games</b> - During the Onam festival, the people of Kerala also indulge in some traditional games which include both ball games as well as combat games. The traditional Onam games include Talappanthukali, Kayyankali, Kutukutu, Ambeyyal and Attakalam. Talappanthukali is a ball game which requires stamina and hard work. Two groups of players try to hit a stick called a 'natta' using a small ball which is made with plantain leaves and pebbles. Ambeyyal is an archery game in which bamboo bows and blunted arrows are used which is not generally intended to hurt anyone. It is played in order to test the skill and patience of the players. Kutukutu is a Kerala version of the famous Kabaddi sport. The rules are similar to those of Kabaddi and it is played only by men. Kayyankali is a combat game which involves a lot of violence and is the most deadly one out of all the games. Players can use only their fists to fight against their opponents to bring them to the ground. It is played individually between two people only. It is so violent that sometimes even death occurs during the course of the game. Attakalam is also a combat game but it is less violent than Kayyankali and the difference lies in the fact that Attakalam is played in groups whereas Kayyankali is played in singles. <a href='http://spiderkerala.net/resources/7711-Traditional-Games-Onam-Festival.aspx'>Read about the traditional Onam games in detail</a>4. <b>Grand feast</b> - An elaborate banquet or feast is another important part of the celebrations of Onam festival. It is known as Onasadya. The feast consists of many items of typical Kerala variety such as sambar, kaalan, avial, rasam, koottukari etc. In olden days, there were more than 60 items which were prepared and served for Onasadya but in today's world no one has the time to make such an elaborate feast which is why the number of items have reduced to about 8 or 10 items. Only vegetarian items are prepared on this day. These items are served on a banana leaf which is placed in a particular direction. The dish items also have to be served in an order with specific directions as to where each and every item should be placed on the banana leaf. In earlier days, the sadya used to be placed on mats which are kept on the floor. People were supposed to sit cross-legged on the floor to have the meal. But nowadays everything has changed and the sadya is served on the dining table itself. Before anyone eats from the sadya, all the dish items are placed as a full course meal in a small banana leaf and kept in front of Lord Ganapathi as a ritual as Keralites start every auspicious thing in the name of God. People eat the sadya with hands itself. Spoons and forks are never used for this purpose. After the sadya, there will be desserts called payasam. <a href='http://spiderkerala.net/resources/7713-Onam-Sadya-Items-Onam-Sadya-Recipes.aspx'>Get the recipes of Onam sadya items here</a>5. <b>Snake boat races</b> - Boat races are another important part of the celebrations of Onam festival in Kerala. These races which are also called Vallamkali are now world-famous as it is unique and requires a lot of hard work and team unity. The boat race is organised in many parts of Kerala especially in those places where there are backwaters. 'Vallam' in Malayalam language means water and 'kali' means to play. Vallamkali takes place usually on uthratadhi nakshatram of the Chingam month. The race consists of hundreds of oarsmen in one boat itself who take part very excitedly in the match. Aries Punnamada Chundan, which has a length of 144 ft, is the longest steel snake boat in the world because of which it has entered the Guinness Book of World Records and also has a place in the Limca Book of Records. Nearly 30 snake boats take part in the competition with each boat carrying at least 100 oarsmen in them. It was India's former Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru who developed vallamkali as a national level competition after being mesmerised by the uniqueness and charm of the sport.<a href='http://spiderkerala.net/resources/7726-Snake-boat-races-during-Onam-festival.aspx'>Read about snake boat races in detail</a>

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