the principal festival of Kerala, is celebrated against
a setting of lush green vegetation. This picturesque
harvest festival brings ten days of colour feasting,
boat races, song and dance to the state.
According to legend, the state's most colourful festival,
Onam celebrates the golden age of King Mahabali, the
mythical ruler of Kerala. The festival is to welcome
the spirit of King Mahabali, and to assure him that
his people are happy and wish him well. The myth goes
like this :
The Devas or Gods were worried over the wise and good
rule of Mahabali, the Asura king, thinking that he might
become too powerful. They sought the help of Vishnu
(the preserver in the Hindu trinity) to curb Mahabali's
power. Vishnu, in the form of a dwarf called Vamana,
approached him and had been offered a boon by the king.
The Vamana asked for three paces of land and the king
agreed to it. Soon the dwarf began to expand and with
the first step, he covered the sky, blotting out the
stars, and with the second, he straddled the nether
world. Realising that the Vamana's third step will destroy
the earth, Mahabali offered his head as the last step.
The Gods were glad, but since Mahabali was so attached
to his kingdom and the subjects and was very much loved
by the people, he was allowed to return once a year.
Onam (Thiruonam) is considered to be the day when King
Mahabali comes from exile to visit his beloved people.
The festivity begin ten days before Thiruonam, by putting
floral decorations (Pookkalam) on every home. At Trichur
(Thrissur), caparisoned elephants take part in a spectacular
procession. A magnificent display of fireworks marks
the end of the festivities here. At Cheruthuruthy, appreciative
crowds gather on the green, where the Kathakali dancers,
resplendent in their brilliant costumes, re-enact the
well-loved stories of the epic heroes and virtuous women.
Pulikali, also known as Kaduvakali is a common sight
during Onam season. Performers painted like tigers in
bright yellow, red and black, dance to the beats of
instruments like udukku and thakil.
The Vallamkali (boat race) is one of the main attractions
of Onam, and is best seen at Aranmulai and Kottayam.
About a hundred oarsmen row huge and graceful odee (boats).
Oars dip and flash to the rhythm of drums and cymbals
in each boat. The songs are generally typical in character
and concern people well known in Malabar. Above each
boat gleam scarlet silk umbrellas: their number denotes
the affluence of the family owning the boat. Gold coins
and tassels hang from the umbrellas.
In the evening girls perform the Kaikottikkali (Thiruvathirakkali
) in the open, dancing around the traditional brass