Onam Festival


Onam is a Hindu festival celebrated in Kerala, India. It is a harvest festival and is celebrated with joy and enthusiasm all over the state by people of all communities. According to a popular legend, the festival is celebrated to welcome King Mahabali, whose spirit is said to visit Kerala at the time of Onam.

Onam is celebrated in the beginning of the month of Chingam, the first month of Malayalam Calendar which falls sometime during the months of August-September according to Gregorian Calendar


Day 01 - Atham

Atham is the first day of festivities in the ten-day-long Onam carnival. The day of Atham comes ten days before the asterism Onam or Thiru Onam hence Atham is regarded holy and auspicious by the traditional people of Kerala. To complete the rituals of Atham people take early bath and offer prayers in the local temple. There is also a set breakfast for Atham consisting of steamed bananas and fried pappadam (pappad). This breakfast remains the same till the tenth and the last day of Thiru Onam. A swing decked with flowers is also slung from a high branch and youngsters take great delight in swinging and singing Oonjal (swing) songs.

The traditional ritual of laying pookalam (floral carpet) starts on Atham day. The pookalam on this day is called Athapoo, and it is relatively small in size. The size of the pookalam grows in size progressively with each day of the Onam festival. Only yellow flowers will be used on Atham and the design is kept simple. Statues or figurines of Mahabali and Vamana are also installed at the entrance of each house on this day.


Day 02- Chithira

The pookalam design on the second day consists of a second layer added on top with 2 different colours apart from yellow (mostly orange and creamy yellow). On this day, people start cleaning the household to prepare for the Thiruvonam day.


Day 03 - Chodhi

On the third day of Onam celebrations, the pookalam starts growing in its size by adding new layers or designs with at least 4 to 5 different flowers. The day also marks the start of shopping activities. Onam is associated with gifting new clothes, hence from this day onwards people start buying new clothes and jewellery.

Day 04 - Vishakam

The fourth day of Onam celebrations. Vishakam is considered to be one of the most auspicious days of Onam. In olden days, the markets open their harvest sale on this day, making one of the busiest days in the markets for public. Nowadays, Vishakam marks the start of many Onam-related competitions such as Pookalam competition


Day 05 - Anizham

It is the fifth day of Onam celebrations. High point of the day is the grand Snake Boat Race event called Vallamkali, which takes place on the fifth day of the Onam. The hugely popular competition happens on the banks of the river Pamba at Aranmulla. A multitude of domestic and international tourists come to witness the colourful spectacle of the race.A large number of long snake like boats called chundan vallams participate in Vallamkali. Each picturesquely decorated boat is oared by hundreds of oarsmen dressed in the traditional dhoti and turban. Boats are oared on the rhythm of vanchipattu or boat songs. Vallamkali is essentially a team event as a single mistake by a oarsman can lead to overturning of the boat.

On the home front, more flowers are added to the Pookalam laid in the front courtyard of the house. Women become extremely busy making preparations for Thiru Onam and a general atmosphere of excitement prevail at this time in Kerala.


Day 06 - Thriketa

Sixth day of Onam celebrations. By the sixth day, the public frenzy starts building up. Most of the schools and public offices are granted holiday from this day onwards and people start packing their bags to their native homes to celebrate the festival with their dear ones. The pookalam design will be very large by this time, with at least 5 to 6 new flowers types added to the original designs.


Day 07 - Moolam

The seventh day of Onam celebrations. On this day, the smaller versions of traditional Ona Sadya (Onam lunch feast) start in many places. Most of the temples offer special sadyas on from this day. Festivities include Puli Kali (masked leopard dance) and traditional dance forms like Kaikotti Kali which are performed in various functions. The official Government celebrations start on this day with heavy illuminations in Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi and Kozhikode along with fireworks.


Day 08 - Pooradam

Pooradam is the eighth day of the ten-day-long carnival of Onam. The day holds significance in Onam festivities. Devotees create clay idols in the shape of small pyramids called a Ma. As the idol is created on the day of Pooradam, it is also called Poorada-Uttigal. Each Ma is decorated with flowers.On Pooradam size of the Attha Poo gets further increased due to an addition of design with a different flower. Hectic last minute shopping takes place at this time as people strives to give shape to their creative plans. Massive house cleaning operation starts as people ensure that everything looks neat and tidy when the Onathappan arrives. People also visit friends and relatives and exchange warm greetings of the festive occasion.


Day 09 - Uthradom

The ninth day of Onam Celebrations. Uthradom is the ninth and the penultimate day of the festival of Onam. It is considered as Onam eve and celebrated in a very big way. The importance of this day is last minute extreme shopping frenzy called as Uthradappachil and is considered the most auspicious day for purchase of fresh vegetables and fruits along with other provisions from the Thiruvonam day.

Uthradam is known as 'First Onam' because it marks the day when King Mahabali descends onto Kerala. Traditional myths say that the king will spend the next four days touring his erstwhile kingdom and blessing the subjects. Due to this, Uthradom is celebrated in a very pompous manner with larger pookalams and celebrations in all households. The Uthradom lunch is generally grand. Women normally cut the first set of vegetables on this day that marks the celebrations of Thiruvonam in each household and preparations for grand Thiruvonam feast also start during the evening of Uthradom day.


Day 10 - Thiruonam

Thiruvonam Aashamsakal ! The enchanting state of Kerala reverberates with the chants of Onaashmsakal, "To everyone, Onam Wishes" as people exchange warm greetings of the occasion on the tenth and the most important day of the carnival of Onam. People believe that it is on Thiru Onam that the spirit of legendary King Mahabali visits the state of Kerala. Activities begin early in the morning. People clean their house, take early bath, wear new clothes and participate in special prayers organised in individual homes and then in local temples. Later a very special and the biggest of all days Pookalam is prepared to welcome Maveli. Clay mounds in the shape of pyramids representing Lord Vishnu and Mahabali are prepared and placed in front of the Pookalam.In the noon the grand feast of Onam called Onasadya is prepared. The strictly vegetarian meal consists of 11 - 13 mandatory dishes and is served on a banana leaf. The eldest member of the family presents gifts and new clothes to the family members. Various cultural events are organised all over the state to mark the day. Dances, games, shows and get together are the other highlights of the day. Patassu (fire crackers) are also burnt to celebrate the occasion.


Other Customs

The tradition of buying and wearing new clothes for the occasion of Onam is called the Onakkodi.

During the Onam, Keralite Hindus install an image of Thrikkakara Appan or Onatthappan (Vishnu in the form of Vamana) in their home just as Hindus install images or murtis of Lord Ganesh on the Ganesh Chaturthi festival.

Many lamps are lit in Hindu temples of Kerala during this celebration. A palmyra tree is erected in front of temples and surrounded with a wooden balustrade and covered with dry palmyra leaves. It is lit with a torch and burned to ashes to signify that King Mahabali went to Patala as a sacrifice

The swing is another integral part of Onam, especially in the rural areas. Young men and women, decked in their best, sing Onappaatt, or Onam songs, and rock one another on swings slung from high branches.

Onam season is often associated with creativity as weavers and potters go for excess production to cater to increased demands for their products during the season, especially in North Kerala regions of Kannur and Kasargod. Handloom fairs are an integral part of the spirit of Onam festivities these days.

In some parts of Kerala, people indulge in various games and dances during and post-Thiruvonam. These are known as Onakkalikal. These include competitions such as Ox races (Maramadimatsaram), Uriyady, food eating competitions, Pookalam competitions etc.