Onam is an annual Harvest festival in the state of Kerala in India. It falls on the 22nd nakshatra Thiruvonam in the Malayalam calendar month of Chingam, which in Gregorian calendar overlaps with August–September.
According to legends, the festival is celebrated to commemorate King Mahabali, whose spirit is said to visit Kerala at the time of Onam. Onam is a major annual event for Malayali people in and outside Kerala.
It is a harvest festival, one of three major annual Hindu celebrations along with Vishu and Thiruvathira, and it is observed with numerous festivities.
Onam celebrations include Vallam Kali(boat races), Pulikali (tiger dances), Pookkalam (flower arrangement), Onathappan (worship), Onam Kali, Tug of War, Thumbi Thullal (women’s dance), Kummattikali (mask dance), Onathallu (martial arts), Onavillu (music), Kazhchakkula (plantain offerings), Onapottan (costumes), Atthachamayam (folk songs and dance), and other celebrations.
Onam is the official state festival of Kerala with public holidays that start four days from Uthradom (Onam eve). Major festivities take places across 30 venues in Thiruvananthapuram, capital of Kerala.
It is also celebrated by Malayali diaspora around the world. Though a Hindu festival, non-Hindu communities of Kerala participate in Onam celebrations considering it as a cultural festival.
People buy and wear new clothes for the occasion of Onam, and this tradition 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 Ganesha on the Ganesha Chaturthi festival elsewhere.
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.