Situated in South-India, Kerala, famously known as ‘God’s own country’ is a land rich in history, culture, and tradition. From its famed music and arts to its delectable cuisine and serene backwaters, Kerala has something to offer for everyone. The natives from Kerala, ‘Malayalis’, speak Malayalam – the most difficult Indian language to learn!
The Festival of Harvest
Keralites celebrate several festivals but Onam is the biggest and most notable of all festivals celebrated all throughout the land. According to Hindu mythology, the festival is celebrated to commemorate the homecoming of King Mahabali, who Malayalis consider to be just and fair King who was exiled to the underworld. Legend has it that his spirit visits Kerala at the time of Onam.
All ‘Keralites’, irrespective of religion, gather to celebrate this distinctive festival. Onam is celebrated as the festival of harvest at the end of August or beginning of September. Non-stop festivities take place through 4 days to celebrate the harvest festival and extended relatives gather to fete together.
A notable practise during Onam is that of making the ‘Pookalam’ or the flower carpet. A floral decoration is prepared in the front courtyard by girls of the house to welcome the spirit of King Mahabali. Boys play a supporting role and help in gathering flowers. In the subsequent days of the festival, more flowers are added to the ‘Pookalam’. As a result, it turns out to be a large decoration of flowers on the final day.
Also, swings are slung from the high branches of trees. Children enjoy decorating these swings with flowers. The youth delight in swinging on these swings and singing traditional songs.
During the festival, street parades are performed with decorated elephants and floats, musicians, and various traditional Kerala art forms. At Thrikkakara Temple, there is a special flag hoisting ceremony on the first day of Onam. The main deity, Vamana, is carried around the temple grounds on an elephant, followed by a group of caparisoned elephants. Celebrations continue for the whole 10 days with cultural, music, and dance performances. In some parts of Kerala, masked and grass clad Kummatti dance performers take to the streets to entertain people during the main four days of Onam.
Paradise for Foodies
A distinct part of the festival of harvest is the traditional grand feast called Onasadya which is prepared on the most important day of the festivities. Kerala lives up to its title of ‘Land of Spices’ as this 9-course meal features more than 25 side dishes- it’s like an explosion of tastes in your mouth. The most impressive characteristic of this feast is that all the food prepared are vegetarian! Also, this meal is not served on plates but on fresh plantain leaves! The people of Kerala sit on a mat laid on the floor to have the Onasadya.
Several community games are played during the Onam festival. The most famous of them is the Nehru Cup Boat Race in the riverine area. It is named after Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and is conducted on the Punnamda Lake on the second Saturday of August every year. On the day of this fiercely fought boat race, the tranquil lakefrontis packed with an estimated two lakh people, including tourists from abroad for watching it. For the people Kerala, victory at this race for their village boat is something to be celebrated for months to come. In addition to the boat race, Malayalis play several outdoor games including tug-of-war, archery, combat games and kabaddi – a contact team sport.