Like all other states of India, Kerala too has its unique festivals and celebratory time of the year. With so much to cheer about like fertile land, rich cultivation, education and literacy and a rich cultural heritage, Kerala celebrates three important festivals with great pomp and show. These festivals are Onam, Vishu and Thiruvathirai. All of these have a special significance among the Malayalis but are significantly marked by family get togethers, lavish and sumptuous spread of food and merrymaking. These festivities are underlined with great familial bonding, dressing up, elaborate religious rituals, public gathering, cheer and happiness in the air. Let us have a look at each of these festivals in greater detail in order to understand the Malayali culture better
Onam is the biggest celebration in the year in the state of Kerala and is hence termed as the State Festival of Kerala. It falls in the Malayali month of Chingam which typically falls in August- September according to the Gregorian calendar and is celebrated for a period of 10 days. Since this is the month of harvest in the state of Kerala, Onam is referred to as the Harvest festival.
Onam marks the homecoming of the legendary king Mahabali, who ruled Kerala in ancient times. Legend has it that the state of Kerala prospered enormously during the reign of Mahabali. This period of happiness and harmony was lost once the Vamana avatar of Lord Vishnu pushed Mahabali deep into the earth. However, taking Mahabali’s honesty and magnanimity, Vamana granted Mahabali a boon to visit his land and meet his subjects once every year. The festival of Onam is an ode to this centuries old tradition of Kerala.
There are some distinct rituals performed by people on the occasion of Onam. People wear new clothes and decorate their houses. They also spread a carpet of flowers called the Pookalam in front of their houses in order to welcome King Mahabali. The feast prepared on the occasion of Onam is extremely lavish and consists of about 21 home-made curries and a sweet payasam which is served on a traditional banana leaf. There are other temple rituals that are performed early in the morning and the younger members of the family are blessed by the elders thereafter. At several places there are huge Elephant carnivals organised. The traditional and spectacular Snake Boat races are organised in the coastal cities which are a treat for the tourists. Kathakali dance is performed by several dancers in temple complexes and also on public platforms which are specifically raised on the occasion of Onam. The Kerala Tourism week is especially celebrated on during Onam to showcase the state’s natural beauty and culture.
Vishu, the New Year of the Hindus in the state of Kerala is celebrated with much joy and mirth throughout the state. It falls on the first days of the Malayali month of Medam which falls in the Gregorian month of April. The most important ritual during Vishu is to open your eyes before the Vishukanni. The Vishukanni is prepared by the lady of the house on the night before Vishu and consists of a beautiful arrangement of auspicious items like an image of Lord Vishnu, flowers, fruits, vegetables, sweets, clothes and jewellery or gold coins. After the ritual bath and dressing up in traditional clothes, the younger generation of the family seeks the blessings of the older generation are blessed with clothes or money.
Dhanu, the fifth month in the Malayali calendar is the time for celebration for women in Kerala as the festival of Thiruvathirai is celebrated during this time. Women folk gather at a common place and perform the Thiruvathirakkali dance as a mark of obeisance to Lord Shiva. The festival of Thiruvathirai is celebrated by married women to pray for conjugal and marital bliss and by single girls to be blessed with a husband like Lord Shiva himself. It is a simple festival that is marked by cheer, prayer and faith in the state of Kerala.
There is yet another festival, the Thrissur Pooram which is a festival of Arts and is celebrated in the city of Thrissur. Large numbers of spectators throng the grounds where there is a dazzling display of fireworks during the meeting of all the deities. There is a procession of decorated elephants during this festival of arts and is truly a magical experience to witness.