With the rains bidding adieu to Kerala, the state is all prepared to welcome the harvest season with vigour and joy. Yes, it’s time for the biggest spectacle in the land of South India – the cultural fiesta that is Onam! Celebrated over the course of 10 days during the first Malayalam month of Chingam (August-September), this vibrant harvest festival marks the homecoming of Mahabali. Legend goes that the spirit of the mythical demon king, who ruled in ancient Kerala and was loved by people for his generosity and virtue, returns to Earth from Patala once every year at the time of Onam.
To pay homage to their legendary king, the entire state is turned into a riot of colours with Keralites drenched in euphoria amidst extravagant festivities like floral decorations, boat races, folk music & dance, elaborate meals and more. Wish to witness the rich cultural tradition of Kerala in all its glory and dive deep into the festive vibe yourself? Well, why not plan a trip to God’s Own Country during the Onam festival. Nowhere will you see a land more vivid and prismatic, that’s guaranteed!
Main Attractions in Kerala during Onam
1. Athachamayam, Kerala
Athachamayam kicks off the 10-day long festivities with a colourful street procession from the royal town of Thripunithura near Kochi to Thrikkakara Temple. During the parade, you can see intricately-decorated elephants marching down the streets with music and drum beats, dancers, traditional art forms, carnival floats and people dressed in vibrant attire. A mesmerising sight indeed!
2. Pakalpooram, Kerala
If you’re in Kerala during Onam, don’t miss the celebrations at Thrikkakara Temple (40 minutes away from Kochi). Besides dance, music and cultural performances at the temple for the entire duration of the festival, a major event organised here is Pakalpooram. A day before Thiruvonam, the main deity is carried around the temple premises on a caparisoned elephant with a herd following.
3. Vallamkali, Kerala
A major reason why Onam is the best time to visit Kerala is the world-famous snake boat race, which takes place across the state. Unique to God’s Own Country, this impressive rowing event, also called Vallamkali, sees massive boats being rowed by 100s of people on the Pampa River. The most popular boat races you can include in your itinerary are Aranmula Uthrittathi and Nehru Trophy.
4. Pulikkali, Kerala
Ever seen the grand tiger dance? No? Then there’s no reason why you shouldn’t plan a trip to Kerala when it is alive with Onam celebrations. For the 2000-year old art form called Pulikkali, dancers paint themselves in yellow and black and dress to resemble a tiger and later perform to the tunes of folk music. The best place to witness this glorious ‘play of the tiger’ is the city of Thrissur.
5. Onasadhya, Kerala
No trip to Kerala can be complete without indulging in local delicacies and what could be better than the popular Onam feast, Onasadhya. This delicious multi-course meal is prepared on the last day of the festival and comprises a minimum of 11-12 traditional vegetarian dishes served on a banana leaf. At the end of the grand feat, you will get to relish the delectable dessert called Payasam.
Other than these festival highlights, there’s a lot more you can see in different parts of Kerala at the time of Onam. Get a glimpse of folk music and dances that showcase the true essence of the state, such as Kathakali, Kummattikali, Thiruvathirakali and Theyyam. See the Pookalam (flower carpets), made at the entrance doors of the houses, being shaped into a gorgeous design with every passing day. Witness the post-Onam festivities like immersion of Onathappan statue in the river and removal of Pookalam. The city streets buzzing with Keralites buying new clothes, temples glistening under the light of the lamps, the spectacular display of fireworks in cities, the handloom fairs in rural areas and much more; the festival of Onam is truly a delight and you should plan a visit to Kerala while it lasts. Commenced on Thursday, 5 September, Onam is going to last till Tuesday, 17 September in 2024.