Onam, the best time to rendezvous with Kerala’s cultural heritage

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This Onam, travel to the heart of Kerala and experience the state at its cultural best.

Illustration (Photo: Prasanth)

Thiruvonam, the harvest festival of Kerala is celebrated for a span of ten days beginning from Atham and concluding with Thiruvonam. Each region in Kerala has its own Onam specialty but the main highlights of the festival are the pookalam (flower carpet) decorations found in front of every home and the Onasadya (traditional meal served on a banana leaf with over two dozen dishes).

Onam Pookalam and Sadhya | File photo, Mathrubhumi

Onam is a great time to visit the state as one can indulge in its cultural vibrancy during this period. The ten-day festival will include various visual treats and memorable experiences for a traveler. The whole state will break into color with songs, dance, games, and other traditional art forms being put on at various locations.


Athachamayam | File photo, Mathrubhumi

Marking the beginning of Onam festivities in the state, Athachamayam is a great opportunity to experience most of the major art forms in Kerala. Every year, Tripunithura (Ernakulam) bears witness to the religious harmony that is the hallmark of the Onam festival. Historically, this was a parade meant to honor the Raja of Kochi.

The traditional art forms like Theyyam, Kummatti, Kolkali, Pulikali, Kavadi Aattam, etc are showcased as a part of this festival. This year, the parade will be held on August 20.

Aranmula Boat race

Aranmula boat race | File photo, Mathrubhumi

The Aranmula Uthrattadi Vallamkali or Aranmula Boat Race is one of the most ancient and revered events in Kerala. It takes place on the Pamba River in the Pathanamthitta district. The race is held as a ceremonious offering to Lord Krishna, the deity at the Sree Parthasarathy Temple.

The snake boats used for the race are called Palliyodams and the name ‘aranmula’ is derived from a belief that Lord Krishna appeared on the shores of this river on a raft made of six bamboos (aaru+mula). This will be held on September 2.

Puli Kali

Pulikali | File photo, Mathrubhumi

Puli Kali or Tiger dance is one of the most famous art forms of the state. It is held on the fourth day of Onam where men’s bodies are painted in majestic stripes of yellow, black, and red. They dance to the beats of traditional musical instruments like chenda and thakil whilst showcasing a tiger hunt. This will be held on September 1 at the Swaraj round in Thrissur.


Thiruvathirakali | File photo, Mathrubhumi

Thiruvathirakali or Kaikottikali is a unique dance form performed in Kerala by women. It is also known as Kummi Kali, and is usually performed on the occasion of Onam and during the months of December-January (dhanumasam).

The women, dressed in Kerala's traditional attire (kasavu) dance around a wick lamp (nilavilakku). Though this will be performed in many places in Kerala during the Onam season.


Onathallu | File photo, Mathrubhumi

This is one of the oldest games that is part of Kerala’s cultural heritage. It has its roots in martial arts and used to be an entertainment meant for upper-class individuals. It requires discipline, strength, and knowledge of one’s adversary’s moves.

This can be witnessed mostly in the Thrissur district but is also popular in the Malabar regions of the state. Meenkulathi Bhagavathi Temple in Vadakkethara will be hosting the Pallassana onathallu on September 8.


Vadamvali | File photo, Mathrubhumi

Tug of war or Vadamvali is not indigenous to Kerala but is nevertheless a highlight of the Onam festival. From schools and colleges to offices and neighborhoods, these exciting vadamvali competitions can be seen at every nook and cranny in the state.

State-level Onam celebrations

Scenes from the State-level celebration | File photo, Mathrubhumi

The Kerala state-level Onam celebration is a week-long festival held in the state capital, Thiruvananthapuram. This year, the events will commence on August 27 and end on September 2. Display of traditional art forms at special markets and fests are all planned to be part of this year’s celebrations.

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