What is Onam?

 What is Onam?

The celebration of “Onam” is one of the most important festivals celebrated in the southern Indian state of Kerala. It is an annual festival that signifies the yearly harvest. Onam also holds major historical significance and dates back to ancient Hindu texts. It lasts for 12 days. It is celebrated from August 12 to August 23 (2021).

This blog will explain all you need to know about Onam and the ways that it is celebrated. 

Historical Significance

Onam is mentioned in many ancient Hindu texts. It commemorates King Mahabali, a demon king who found liberation and heavenly abode because of his charitable and religious deeds. 

The neo-liberal India has re-positioned Onam as a tourist event. Every year, thousands of tourists visit Kerala to be a part of Onam celebrations. 

How Is “Onam” Celebrated?

Various traditions are prevalent in Kerala for celebrating Onam. The festival lasts for 12 days, with each day having different celebrations and ceremonies. Let’s look at some ceremonies and rituals around Onam.


Atthachamayam refers to a grand parade that features elephants marching with music, drum beats, and other folk-art forms. The parade features scenes from Hindu epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata. This ceremony has historical significance, as locals believe that the king of ancient Kerala used to march with elephants on Onam. 


“Pookkalam”, also known as the flower “rangoli”, is an event in which people make beautiful designs using gathered blossoms to decorate their homes and temples. The “Pookkalam” designs are then placed at entranceways and are complemented with lamps. This ritual mainly includes females and is a work of religious art. 

Music and Dance

Dance and music are a common sight during Onam. Locals perform various dance forms, including Thiruvathira Kali, Kummattikali, Kathakali, and Pulikali. All dance forms include colourful dresses and makeup, all having major religious and historical significance. 


Vallamkali or boat race is another major attraction during Onam. The state of Kerala organizes various competitions and trophy events during the festival. The boats used in the Vallamkali are shaped like snakes, and thus, this event is also called the “the snake boat race.”

Onam Sadya

Onam Sadya is the feast that takes place during Onam. Every Keralite either prepares the meal or attends one. Onam Sadya is special as the dishes are made from seasonal vegetables such as cucumber, ash gourd, and yam. The meal is then is served on plantain leaves and the entire meal contains nine courses; however, some people may prepare up to two dozen dishes. 

Other Customs

Onam is a holiday in Kerala. Apart from the celebrations mentioned above, people buy new clothes and meet their friends and loved ones on Onam. They light lamps in temples and offer prayers to the Vaman form of Lord Vishnu. 


Onam is the most important festival for Keralites and one of the major festivals in India. A lot of tourists visit Kerala during Onam to be a part of the celebration and rituals. Besides India, Onam is also celebrated in the UAE, Singapore, New Zealand, the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom, as well as in some cities of France. 

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