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Onam 2023: History and significance of the festival

Why we celebrate onam

Onam is primarily celebrated by the people of Kerala, a state in southern India. It holds great cultural and traditional significance for the Malayali community, which is predominantly Hindu. It is worth noting that people of all religions and communities in Kerala happily participate in this festival, making it a truly inclusive and joyous occasion for everyone. Today we are going to know about why we celebrate onam, when it is onam 2023, and the history behind the festival.

Onam is typically celebrated during August or September, according to the Malayalam calendar. The festival lasts for ten days, with the main day known as Thiru Onam falling on the second day of the Malayalam month of Chingam.

When is Onam 2023 starting? Sunday, 20 Aug 2023 – Thursday, 31 Aug 2023. The dates of Onam vary each year as they are determined by the lunar calendar. The festival takes place during the harvest season, and the exact timing is influenced by astronomical calculations and traditional customs.

To celebrate Onam, people engage in various customs and rituals. The preparations for Onam begin well in advance, with cleaning and decorating homes. Intricate floral arrangements known as Pookkalam are created at the entrance of houses using vibrant and colourful flowers, forming intricate patterns and designs.

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Onam Ten Days Festival:

Day 1: Atham

The commencement of Onam is marked by the first day known as Atham. People begin the preparations for the festival by cleaning their houses, decorating them with colourful floral designs called Pookkalam, and shopping for new clothes. The air is abuzz with excitement as the locals gear up for the upcoming days of revelry.

Day 2: Chithira

On the second day, known as Chithira, the Pookkalam patterns become more elaborate and intricate. Women and children engage in various traditional games and sports, adding an element of fun and competition to the festivities. The vibrant sounds of laughter and cheer fill the air.

Day 3: Chodi

Chodi is the third day of Onam when the pace of the celebrations intensifies. People start gathering flowers from their gardens and the surrounding areas to create larger and more intricate Pookalam designs. Traditional dance performances, such as Kaikottikali and Thumbi Thullal, grace the stages, captivating the audience with their grace and rhythm.

Day 4: Vishakam

Vishakam, on the fourth day, witnesses heightened anticipation among the people. The streets come alive with processions and parades showcasing the rich cultural heritage of Kerala. Colourful floats, adorned with vibrant decorations, move through the streets, accompanied by traditional music and dance performances.

Day 5: Anizham

Anizham, the fifth day, is marked by a grand feast called Onasadya. Families and friends gather together to enjoy this elaborate vegetarian meal, served on a banana leaf, comprising a variety of delicacies. The aroma of freshly prepared dishes tantalises the senses, creating a feeling of warmth and togetherness.

Day 6: Thriketta

Thriketta, the sixth day, is associated with worship and spirituality. Devotees visit temples and perform rituals to seek blessings for prosperity and well-being. The Pookalam designs reach their zenith, incorporating more intricate patterns and vibrant colours, symbolising the abundance of nature.

Day 7: Moolam

Moolam, the seventh day, is marked by cultural programs and traditional performances. People indulge in traditional art forms like Kathakali, Thiruvathirakali, and Pulikali, which showcase the rich cultural tapestry of Kerala. The rhythmic beats of the drums and the graceful movements of the dancers create an enchanting ambience.

Day 8: Pooradam

Pooradam, on the eighth day, witnesses a surge of excitement as the grand procession of the mythical King Mahabali takes place. Decked in majestic attire, the symbolic representation of King Mahabali travels through the streets, accompanied by traditional music, dance, and the exuberant cheers of the crowd.

Day 9: Uthradom

Uthradom, the penultimate day, is marked by the final preparations for the grand finale. Shopping for fresh flowers, traditional attire, and gifts reaches its peak as people gear up to welcome the spirit of King Mahabali into their homes.

Day 10: Thiruvonam

Thiruvonam, the most significant day of Onam, is filled with joy, festivities, and cultural performances. Families come together to celebrate, exchange gifts, and indulge in the sumptuous Onam Sadya feast. The entire state of Kerala resonates with laughter, music, and dance as people immerse themselves in the spirit of Onam.

Onam Attire:

Onam attire reflects the traditional elegance of the Malayali culture. Women adorn themselves in white and gold-bordered sarees, known as Kasavu sarees, paired with matching blouses. Men typically wear white dhoti and shirts, with the shirt often embellished with golden borders.

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History of Onam Celebration:

The history behind the Onam celebration dates back to ancient folklore and mythology. According to legend, Onam is associated with the mythical King Mahabali, who was believed to have ruled over Kerala during a period of prosperity and harmony.

King Mahabali was renowned for his just rule and the welfare of his subjects. His reign was characterised by abundance, where everyone was happy and content. However, his growing popularity and power concerned the gods, including Lord Vishnu.

To test King Mahabali’s humility and to maintain the balance of power, Lord Vishnu took the form of Vamana, a dwarf Brahmin. Vamana approached Mahabali and requested land that he could cover in three steps. Intrigued and generous, Mahabali granted the request.

To everyone’s surprise, Vamana, in his cosmic form, grew in size, covering the entire Earth in one step and the heavens in another. Now, with no space left for the third step, Mahabali offered his head for Vamana’s third step.

Impressed by Mahabali’s selflessness and humility, Lord Vishnu granted him a boon. Mahabali requested to visit his kingdom, Kerala, once a year to ensure the well-being of his people. Thus, the festival of Onam was established as a way to welcome and celebrate the homecoming of King Mahabali.

Onam is believed to be a time when King Mahabali returns to Kerala to witness the happiness and prosperity of his people. The ten-day festival is celebrated with great zeal and devotion to honour the memory of this legendary king and the golden era of his reign. From this history of the Onam festival, we can understand why we celebrate Onam and also its importance.

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Onam is a festival that encapsulates vibrant rituals, cultural performances, and sumptuous feasts. At EuroSchool, we believe that Onam brings the community together, fostering a sense of unity, gratitude, and harmony. It is a time to celebrate Kerala’s rich cultural heritage, express joy, and partake in festivities that have been passed down through generations.

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