Onam is the biggest and most important festival of the state of Kerala, South India. It is a harvest festival and is celebrated with joy and enthusiasm all over the state by people of all communities and it is celebrated by Malaylam speaking communities across the world. In India, there are a few harvest festivals celebrated in India: Makar Sankranti, Thai Pongal, Uttarayana, Lohri, and Magh Bihu or Bhogali Bihu in January, Holi in February–March, Vaisakhi in April and Onam in August–September.
According to a popular legend, the festival is celebrated to welcome King Mahabali, whose spirit is said to visit Kerala at the time of Onam. Onam is celebrated during the first month of Malayalam Calendar. This corresponds with the month of August-September according to the Gregorian calendar.
Carnival of Onam lasts from four to ten days. First day, Atham and tenth day, Thiruonam are the most important of all. Popularity and presentation of rich culture of the state during the carnival made Onam the National Festival of Kerala in 1961. Elaborate feasts, folk songs, elegant dances, energetic games, elephants, boats and flowers all are a part of the dynamic festival called Onam.
Story goes that during the reign of mighty Asura (demon) king, Mahabali, Kerala witnessed its golden era. Everybody in the state was happy and prosperous and the king was highly regarded by his subjects. Apart from all his virtues, Mahabali had one shortcoming. He was egoistic. This weakness in his character was utilized by Gods to bring an end to his reign as they felt challenged by Mahabali’s growing popularity. However, for all the good deeds done by Mahabali, God granted him a boon that he could annually visit his people with whom he was so attached.
It is this visit of Mahabali that is celebrated as Onam every year. People make all efforts to celebrate the festival in a grand way and impress upon their dear King that they are happy and wish him well.
Keralites cultural heritage comes out in the ten day long festival. It is a state wide celebration with the grand carnival. People of Kerala make detailed preparations to celebrate it in the best possible manner. The most impressive part of Onam celebration is the grand feast called Onasadya, prepared on Thiruonam. It is a nine course meal consisting of 11 to 13 essential dishes. Onasadya is served on banana leaves and people sit on a mat laid on the floor to have the meal.
Another enchanting feature of Onam is the Snake Boat Race, held on the river Pampa. It is a colourful sight to watch the decorated boat oared by hundreds of boatmen amidst chanting of songs and cheering by spectators.
Today it has been celebrated to remember the culture and the tradition and this is also the day where all come together to celebrate it without any barriers and it is a joyful occasion.