Onam is a popular festival celebrated by the people in Kerala in India. It is also the state festival of Kerala. It falls during the month of August-September each year and lasts for ten days. There are two legends about the Onam festival. According to one legend, Kerala had its golden era the reign of King Mahabali. He was the grandson of Prahlada, the great devotee of Lord Vishnu. The subjects of Mahabali were very happy and prosperous, and the king was highly regarded so much that even the gods under Indra became jealous. Urged by them Vishnu came to Mahabali and took the form of a dwarf (Vamana). He requested Mahabali to give three steps of land for him. Mahabali agreed. Vishnu grew so huge that he filled heaven and earth in two steps. Being unable to fulfil his promise, Mahabali offered his head for the third step. Thus Vamana placed his third foot on King Mahabali’s head and sent him down to the Netherland (Patal). However, with the grace of Vishnu, Mahabali visits his people on this Onam Day once a year. According to another legend, Onam is the day on which Parasuram recovered Kerala from the sea-bed by throwing his battle-axe. The axe travelled from Gokarnam in the North to Kanyakumari in the South.
The celebrations of Onam go on for ten days, and each day has its own importance in various rituals and traditions. Earthen mounds which look somewhat like square pyramids—representing Mahabali and Vamana—are placed in the dung-plastered courtyards in front of the house and beautifully decorated with flowers. When this ritual is completed, a miniature pandal, hung with small festoons, is erected over it.
The first day of Onam celebrations is Atham, It starts on Atham day in the Malayalam month of Chingam. It is believed that King Mahabali starts his preparations to come from hell to Kerala on this day. The day also marks the start of festivals at Thrikkakara Temple (considered as the abode of Mahabali). The traditional ritual of laying Pookalam (floral carpet) starts on Atham day. The size of Pookalam on this day is called Athapoo and it would be small for growing gradually for ten days. Only yellow flowers are used on this day, and the statues of Mahabali and Vamana are installed on the entrance of each house.
The second-day Chithira is marked off when a second layer is added to Pookalam with two different colours apart from yellow. On this day people start cleaning the household for the festival.
The third-day Chodi is marked for adding new layers or designs with at least 4 to 5 different flowers. The day also marks the start of shopping activities. It is associated with gifting new clothes.
The fourth-day Vishakam is considered to be one of the most auspicious days of Onam, making one of the busiest days in the markets for the public. It is also noted for Pookalam competitions. The fifth-day Anizham is noted for Vallam Kali (snake boat race) at many parts of Kerala.
The sixth-day Thriketa starts with holidays in most of the schools and public offices. Town people start packing their bags to go to their native homes to celebrate the festival with their dear ones.
The seventh-day Moolam is observed with traditional dance. The official government celebration starts on this day with heavy illuminations in Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi and Kozhikode along with fireworks.
The eighth-day Pooradom is marked off with a major traditional ritual of being the small statues of Mahabali and Vamana washed and cleaned and taken around the house, with a procession.
The ninth-day Uthradom is considered as Onam Eve and celebrated enthusiastically. The Uthrada lunch is a very famous tradition.
The tenth-day Thiruvonam is the final day of Onam. This day is also considered auspicious being birthdays of several temple deities in Kerala. A fabulous display of fireworks turms the capital Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi into a veritable fairyland. Sumptuous feasts are prepared in every household. Even the poorest of the poor manage to find something for himself to celebrate this festival.
Though Onam is a traditional Hindu festival, it has now become a secular festival associated with harvest time and various cultural and social aspects of Kerala life.