Atham and Thiruvonam: The beginning and the end of the Onam


After the monsoon scents the soil and illuminates the verdure landscapes, the God’s own country Kerala comes alive, climaxing in its beauty to welcome its master and the lord.

This benevolent and wise master was King Mahabali. In keeping his promise to the god from the heaven he humbly departed to the netherworld but was rewarded for his courage. Released from the cycle of life and death, Mahabali was sent away from the people he led and loved but was allowed to visit his kingdom once a year.
Wait as they in anticipation, starting from the mythological eras, people in Kerala every year celebrate the descent of their God, turning his land into a festive and ornate spectacle for ten days for the festival of Onam.

The revelry of Onam, which is one of the most awaited festivals of South India, doesn’t stay confined to the houses but comes out to be played in every street and alley, immersing the whole state in a mood of mirth.
The houses decorated, the streets light up, the beautiful rituals, and so the animals, Onam is when the people of Kerala adorn the cultural and mythological richness of the existence of their land.

Ensuring the jubilant festivity, the first day of the Onam festival, known as Atham or Athachamayam according to the folklores of mythology is the day when the king Bali starts his preparation every year to descend down to visit his people and kingdom. Starting early in the day, people take the first feast of steamed bananas and fried papadam, the breakfast to be followed for the next ten days.

The children of the houses sway on the flowered swing singing traditional Oonjal songs while the maidens move around their hands intricately to perfect the flower carpets Pookalam. Also called Athapoo, these floral mats are laid out after a detailed selection of colourful flowers with new layers added on every day of Onam, for they are for the holy spirit of the King Mahabali to set foot on.

The cultural extravaganza that Onam brings to the streets of Kerala begins with a grand procession called Athachamayam. Following the traditional rituals of the Kings who travelled with a huge entourage traversing around their kingdoms, Athachamayam starts from Thripunithura in Kochi and ends at Thrikkakara Temple.
A spectacular event with colourfully decorated elephants and folk artist, dancing, singing, comedy shows, magic shows and many other eccentric practices, the first day of Onam kickstarts the jollification in such resplendent way that it has through years comes to be one of major attractions to many travellers and tourists who plan their visit in Kerala around Onam to witness the godly celebrations.

The apogee of the Onam euphoria is reached on the last day which is called as Thiruvonam. Termed to be the day when the divine soul of the King visits the individual. People clean their houses and decorate their homes for this special visit as well as prepare the special meal of Onasadya customary to the festival.
On this day, clay sculptures representing Lord Vishnu and King Mahabali. On this day gifts are exchanged in the families and throughout the towns and cities, various cultural festivals and programmes are helping to bid a majestic goodbye to the lord of Kerala.

What it means to be in Kerala during Onam?

Onam is the biggest and most important festival of the year in Kerala. It’s a harvest festival that also marks the start of the new year on the Malayalam calendar. A huge range of activities takes place across the state for over two weeks. Here are some of the best Kerala Onam festival attractions for you to enjoy.

1.) Ten days of celebration: Onam is celebrated for ten days and these ten days come laden with cultural, music, and dance performances. A highlight is a grand procession on the day before Onam. The main deity, Vamana, is carried around the temple grounds on an elephant, followed by a group of decorated elephants.

2.) Feasting: Onam on a plate: The sheer variety and types of food that are prepared for Onam are staggering. Stacked up and served in the classical South Indian style in a banana leaf, this is something you would want to experience first-hand to know how amazing it truly is.

3) Games in Onam: Onam is also a carnival of games. Be it the thrilling boat races skipping the heartbeats of innumerable spectators or the martial arts or archery games, one could find the streets of Kerala buzzed with all sorts eccentric display of some serious precision talent. You will find yourself concentrating on the swish moves of the gamers.

4.) A colourful extravaganza: There are various different kinds of plays and dances showcased all over the state, the most famous of them being the Tiger play. Hundreds of grown men dressed up as tigers and dancing to the beat drumming instruments are a cherished feature of Onam celebrations. Kummattikali is the famous colourful mask-dance of Kerala, South Malabar in particular.

During the festival of Onam, Kummattikali performers move from house to house collecting small gifts and entertaining people. Kaikottikali or Thiruvathirakali is an extremely popular folk dance performed by the maidens of Kerala. It is a group dance and is mainly performed on the occasion of Onam and Thiruvathira. Women, both young and old submerge themselves in the spirit of the occasion and dance with perfect moves.

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Written by IndeBo
40 years ago, from a small garage in New Delhi, IndeBo embarked on a journey to welcome the world to India. As a Destination Managment Company, we believe that beyond the travel brochures lies the true, enchanting India and this is the India that we take you to. When it comes to planning a travel itinerary, IndeBo's approach has been distinctive in varied terms. We believe that people travel to explore, learn and experience the new. And for that, we focus on designing handcrafted itineraries that foster customisation, innovation and attention to detail.

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