Onam A legend of Kerala is about the sweet memories of a period of peace and prosperity in the distant past when Mahabali, a celebrated emperor of the Asuras, was supposed to be ruling over this land. His period is believed a have been the golden age in the history of the country. A popular folk song narrates the glories of that period. When Maveli ruled, all men were equal, they were leading a life of happiness and nobody had any calamity-thus goes the song.
There was neither dishonesty nor deception, nor was there any instance of false utterance, use of counterfeit measures of other kinds of unfair practice. Perfect harmony, communal and otherwise, prevailed. In short it was ideal welfare state, the legend tells us. But this golden age came to a tragic close when Mahabali was expelled from his Kingdom by Vamana , the dwarf incarnation of Vishnu. Thus by the designs of the jealous Gods, the glorious reign of the Asura emperor came to an end. But his grateful subjects, request that their former ruler might be permitted to visit the land once a year, was granted. The time for his annual visit was in the first Malayalam month Chingom (August-September) and this occasion became one of Jubilation throughout the land, reminiscent of the prosperous times of Mahabali. Whatever be the truth behind this legend, Onam has for last several centuries been a grand national harvest festival in which all sections of the people participate with extreme Jubilation. As has been mentioned earlier the festival falls in Chingom, the Malayalam month corresponding to August-September. The festival is supposed to begin from the lunar asterism Atham which falls ten days before the asterism Thiruvonam. The preparations for the celebration begin on the Atham day.The Thiruvonam is the most important day of the festival. In the front yard of the house Athapoovu (floral decoration) is made for ten days from Atham to a Thiruvonam. The idol of Thrikkakkara Appan made of clay is placed in the middle of the floral decoration, a clear example of the aesthetic sense of the Malayalam who do it with a sense of devotion.On the Thiruvonam day every one bathes and offers worship in temples early in the morning. Then the gayest new garments are put on. Presents are distributed to the younger members of the family. Then follows the onam feast of delicious food served on plantain leaves. Members of families, staying far away from native places make it a point to visit their ancestral homes to celebrate the festival in the company of their kith and kin.
Vishu The first day of the Malayalam month Medam (Aries) which is the astronomical New Year day when the sun crosses the equator. Vishu, the new years day is considered the best to begin new ventures. We believe that the first thing that one sees on waking up on Vishu day is indicative of the new year’s prosperity. Thus Vishukkani (the first thing seen on Vishu day) has become a ritual of great importance here.
Quite a few agricultural products and other articles which are considered auspicious and imbued with some ritual significance are arranged in an uruli (a shallow bell metal vessel) on the eve of Vishu, to be seen by all members of the family on waking up. These auspicious articles include raw rice, a length of new cloth, ripe cucumber,green mangoes, betel leaves, arecanut, jack fruit, a metal mirror, the yellow flowers of the Konna (Cassia fistula), and a holy text and coins. A lighted Nilavilakku is placed alongside. Another ritual that marks the day is Kaineettam (hansel) when the older members give a coin to the younger members of the family.
Thiruvathira Thiruvathira falls in the Malayalam month of Dhanu. The people celebrate this festival upon age-old tradition and they do it with great joy and respect for the past. It is considered to be high auspicious to worship Siva and the devotees go to the temple before sunrise for ‘darshan’. At night the women keep vigil for Siva and perform Thiruvathira kali. They stand in a circle around lighted brass lamp, and dance each step at the rhythm of the songs they sing, clapping their hands.
Aranmula Uthrittathi For ages, Keralites have cherished a reverential attitude to rivers. When the weather becomes delightfully pleasant and the nature exults in her full glory, it is the apt time for Keralites to hold the Jalotsavam (water – carnivals). The most famous is the Aranmula Snake Boat Race conducted on the Uthrittathi day of Chingom (August-September). On Thiruvonam day in Chingom when the festival of Onam begins in Kerala, Aranmula, becomes cheerful and gay.
Athachamayam The first day of the ten day harvest festival is the atham day of the malayalam month of Chingam. The spectacular event held to mark the begining of Onam, known as Athachamayam, includes a dazzling procession of caparisoned elephants, colorful floats, and an exhibition of some of the most grand art forms of kerala, like the Theyyam, Panchavadyam, Attakavadi, Puli kali, Chendamelam, Pambamelam, Mayilattam, Karakkattam etc
Trissur Pooram The most colourful temple festival of Kerala, Thrissur Pooram, attracts large masses of devotees and spectators form all parts of the world. It consists of processions of richly caparisoned elephants. This festival was introduced by Sakthan Thampuran, the Maharaja of erstwhile Kochi state. The Pooram festival is also well-known for the magnificent display of fireworks. It is celebrated by two rival groups representing the two divisions of Thrissur, Paramekkavu and Thiruvambadi vying with each other in making the display of fireworks grander and more colourful.
Each group is allowed to display a maximum of fifteen elephants and all efforts are made by each party to secure the best elephants in South India and the most artistic parasols, several kind which are raised on the elephants during the display. The commissioning of elephants and parasols is done in the utmost secrecy by each party to excel the other. Commencing in the early hours of the morning, the celebrations last till the break of dawn, the next day.
Nehru Trophy Boat Race The Nehru trophy regatta at Alappuzha on 14th August every year has become an Independence Day feature. Different types of boats take part in this competition. They include the bean-shaped boats, Kite tailed, curly-headed and so on. Between 30 and 60 meters long with tall, cone -shaped, tapering helms protruding several meters above water and accommodating 100 or more at the oars, these boats of exquisite elegance plough the water with the rhythm of drums and cymbals and legendary songs, typical of Kerala.
Above each boat gleam scarlet silk umbrellas as the boats go in procession in the backwaters and rivers of a Kerala, which remind one of the sea-faring and martial traditions of ancient Kerala. The trophy was instituted by former Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru who enthralled by the charm and gaiety of the Kerala Water Carnival.