ONAM – A Malayali Festival in South India

Onam is an annual festival celebrated by the Malayali community of the South Indian state of Kerala as well by the Malayalis around the world. The celebrations last for about ten days which fall in the month of Chingam of the Malayalam calendar (August or September in Gregorian Calendar). 

Onam Festival
Onam | pc- India TV News

Significance of the festival Onam

The festival of Onam has considered being a harvest festival commemorating the annual visit of the mythical king, Mahabali. The story follows that of the golden rule of King Mahabali who ruled over Kerala. Mahabali came to power by defeating the gods and taking over the three worlds. The gods then conspired to end his reign and approached the Hindu lord Vishnu. As Mahabali was a devotee of Lord Vishnu, Vishnu has refused to be a part of any violence against him. Instead, Vishnu decided to test his devotee’s devotion.

Post his victory against the gods, Mahabali had decided to perform a ritual where he would grant anyone any request. Vishnu then took the form of a dwarf boy, Vamana. And he asked for three paces of land, which Mahabali agreed to. Vamana then grew to an enormous size and covered everything that Mahabali ruled over in just two paces. For the third pace, Mahabali offered his head for Vishnu to step on. And Vishnu accepted this as an act of devotion. He then granted Mahabali a boon of being able to visit the people and lands he previously ruled over once every year.

Some of the Festivities


One of the most iconic traditions associated with the festival is creating Pookkalams or floral arrangements in various designs on the floor. The flowers used in this tradition range from locally available marigolds to other flowers sourced from neighboring areas that help provide different tints to the designs. Moreover, these Pookkalams are typically made at the entrances and temple premises. The activity is considered to be a work of religious arts, taken up as a team effort by women and girls.

Pookkalam Onam
Pookkalam|pc- Latestly

Pulikali and other dance

Pulikali, which translated to ‘the play of the tiger’ started about two hundred years ago. The dance showcases performers painted like tigers in yellow, red, and black.  The dance performance mainly occurs in the district of Thrissur.

Another important dance performed is that of KummattiKali. The dancers wear colorful masks and cover their bodies in grass.


Vallamkali refers to the boat races that are held in the water bodies of Kerala during this festival. The races include a diverse set of boats ranging from the famous snake boats to canoes. The Chundan Vallam race, also famous as the Nehru Trophy Boat Race that takes place in Alappuzha and is the most popular of all.  The snake boat race garners attention from thousands of people and has even influenced the Malayali diaspora in Singapore to hold a similar event.

Vallamkali|pc- The Hindu

Onam Sadhya

Another integral part of the festival is the Onam Sadhya. The Sadhya takes place on the last day of the ten-day festival and reflects the spirit of the season. The Sadhya is a feast comprising of vegetarian dishes accompanying rice and a sweet. The dishes are full of seasonal vegetables like yam, cucumber, ash gourd, etc. A distinct aspect of the feast is the fact that it has served on plantain leaves. 

Onam Sadhya|pc- Pinterest

Also read about the festival of tomatoes, La Tomatina

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