Onam Festival 2023: History, Significance and Traditions

Introduction

The Onam festival is a grand and vibrant celebration that holds a special place in the hearts of people from the southern Indian state of Kerala. It is an occasion that marks the homecoming of the legendary King Mahabali, showcasing the rich cultural heritage and tradition of the region. This essay delves into the history, significance, and delectable foods associated with the Onam festival.

This year in 2023, Onam festival has started from 20th August and will be celebrated till 31st August. The official dates of Onam festival are based on the Malayalam calendar.

History:

The origins of the Onam festival can be traced back to ancient Hindu mythology. The festival revolves around the tale of King Mahabali, a beloved and generous ruler who is believed to have ruled over Kerala during a golden era. His reign was characterized by prosperity, equality, and harmony among the people. However, his popularity aroused the jealousy of the gods, particularly Lord Vishnu, who took the form of Vamana, a dwarf Brahmin, to restore balance to the universe.

Vamana sought alms from King Mahabali and requested as much land as he could cover in three paces. Despite the warning of his guru, Shukracharya, Mahabali agreed. Vamana then transformed into his cosmic form and covered the heavens, earth, and the netherworld with his three steps. In response, King Mahabali offered his own head for Vamana’s final step, showcasing his selflessness and devotion. Touched by Mahabali’s humility, Vamana granted him a boon to visit his people once a year, which is celebrated as Onam.

Onam Festival
Onam Festival

Significance:

Onam is more than just a religious festival; it’s a celebration of unity, harmony, and the traditional agrarian way of life. The festival spans over ten days and involves elaborate rituals, cultural performances, and communal feasting. The grand highlight of the festival is the elaborate floral carpet known as ‘Pookkalam,’ which is created using various colored flower petals arranged in intricate patterns. Each day, new layers are added to the Pookkalam, symbolizing the growing excitement and preparation for King Mahabali’s arrival.

The traditional dance forms like Kaikottikali, Thumbi Thullal, and Pulikali are performed during Onam, adding a vibrant and joyful dimension to the festivities. People also engage in various sports and games, collectively known as ‘Onakalikal,’ which include activities like boat races, tug-of-war, and archery.

Rituals and Traditions:

Onam is celebrated over a span of ten days, known as the “Onam Week,” with each day holding special rituals and customs. The festival commences with “Atham,” the first day of Onam, marked by the grand floral arrangement called “Pookalam.” As the days progress, the size and intricacy of the Pookalam grow, culminating in a stunning design by the tenth day, “Thiru Onam.” Another integral part of Onam is the “Vallamkali” or the Snake Boat Race, where beautifully adorned boats manned by rowers dressed in traditional attire compete on rivers and backwaters. The “Pulikali” dance, where artists paint themselves as tigers and perform entertaining street dances, is another iconic tradition associated with the festival.

Onam Festival 2023: History, Significance and Traditions
Onam Festival 2023: History, Significance and Traditions

Cultural Extravaganza:

Onam serves as a platform to showcase Kerala’s rich cultural heritage. Traditional art forms such as Kathakali, Mohiniyattam, and Ottamthullal are performed during the festival, captivating audiences with their grace, elegance, and narrative depth. These performances not only entertain but also provide a window into Kerala’s artistic legacy. The traditional Onam feast, known as the “Onasadya,” is a culinary spectacle featuring an array of vegetarian dishes served on banana leaves. This elaborate feast symbolizes unity and equality, as people from all backgrounds partake in the meal, seated side by side.

Unity in Diversity:

One of the most remarkable aspects of Onam is its ability to foster a sense of unity among the people of Kerala. The festival transcends religious boundaries, as both Hindus and Christians participate in its celebrations. This inclusive nature of Onam reflects the state’s history of communal harmony and tolerance. The egalitarian values embedded in the festival, epitomized by the shared Onasadya, underline the importance of unity and cooperation in a diverse society.

Image credit: Social media
Image credit: Social media

Foods:

The culinary aspect of Onam holds immense importance, with a grand feast known as the ‘Onam Sadya’ being a significant part of the celebration. The Sadya is a traditional vegetarian meal served on a banana leaf and consists of a variety of dishes, each carefully chosen and placed according to a specific order. Some of the key dishes include:

Sambar:

A tangy lentil-based stew cooked with a variety of vegetables and spices.

Aviyal:

A mixed vegetable dish cooked with coconut and yogurt, offering a delightful blend of flavors.

Thoran:

Stir-fried vegetables with grated coconut and spices, adding a distinct crunch and taste.

 

Pachadi:

A yogurt-based dish that strikes a balance between sweet, tangy, and spicy flavors.

Rasam:

A flavorful tamarind-based soup seasoned with spices and herbs.

Onam Festival 2023: History, Significance and Traditions
Onam Festival 2023: History, Significance and Traditions

Parippu Curry:

A simple and wholesome lentil curry that complements the other dishes.

Payasam:

A sweet dessert made from rice, milk, sugar, and various ingredients like jaggery or vermicelli.

The Onam Sadya brings together the flavors and essence of Kerala cuisine, showcasing the diversity and richness of the state’s culinary heritage.

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Conclusion:

In conclusion, the Onam festival encapsulates the essence of Kerala’s history, culture, and traditions. It serves as a reminder of the significance of humility, selflessness, and the importance of living in harmony with nature. The festival’s grand feasts, cultural performances, and communal activities foster a sense of unity and togetherness among the people, making it a cherished celebration that continues to thrive through the ages.

Onam 2023: Know more about Sadhya, the festival’s traditional feast

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