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Onam by Anusha Jakhmola

Hello, I am Anusha Jakhmola. Today I am going to be talking about the harvest festival from Kerala: Onam.

Firstly, Onam is a largely celebrated harvest festival. It is a celebration of the return of King Mahabali and occurs every year. Its origins are from Hindu culture, but Malayalis from around the world of all religions celebrate it. It lasts for ten days every year and even the schools in the state of Kerala close for these days to fully celebrate. This year (2020) Onam will be from the 22nd of August to the 2nd of September.

This festival is celebrated full of energy, colour and liveliness. There are many traditions associated with this holiday. One of the main symbols of Onam is the “Onam Sadhya”. This is a large vegetarian meal presented on a banana leaf. There is a large variety of traditional foods on the leaf such as different curries and pickles.

Another event that occurs are snake boat races. These are races in canoe style boats that are historical to Kerala. This race Is called “Vallam Kali” and has become quite a famous race in this state.

There are also many large parades which include a lot of dancing and music. “Pulli Kali” is the name of a famous “tiger dance” where men dress up as tigers using paint with tiger masks. They perform this special dance in these costumes and it is exclusively performed during Onam. There is a dance by women as well called “Thumbi Thullal”.

The women wear Kasavu saris, which are white coloured saris with golden borders. These are very auspicious clothes only worn on sacred occasions. Men also wear white clothes.

Many houses in Kerala decorate their houses with a special kind of rangoli made of flowers called the “Pookalam”. This is a decoration for King Mahabali to see when he visits.

There is a reason why Mahabali visits Kerala every year. Kerala was once ruled by the demon king from the underworld, Mahabali. He was a brilliant leader and was adored by all of his people. Kerala prospered under his rule with no problems. Bali was extremely devoted to Lord Vishnu.


One day Bali was holding a yagna and was offering to give anything to his people. The Gods became a bit annoyed with how his people were treating him, so they sent Vishnu to defeat him. Lord Vishnu took the form of his fifth avatar, a dwarf man named Vaman. He joined the yagna as Vaman and asked Bali for three pieces of land that he steps on. Bali accepted this. Vaman suddenly grew extremely large and with one step he covered all of land. With the second step he covered all of the sky and space. Now having nowhere left to place the third step, King Mahabali offered his own head as the last step. Accepting this, Vaman stepped on Mahabali’s head and this step sent him back to the underworld. Impressed by his devotion, Vishnu offered to grant any one wish of Mahabali. Bali wished for his spirit to visit his people in Kerala once every year for ten days.

Vishnu granted this wish, and as a result Mahabali visits Kerala every year. These ten days are celebrated for Mahabali’s return as Onam.

This festival is hugely celebrated, even in Ireland by the Malayali community. It is very colourful and joyful. Celebrating Onam in Kerala is a very exciting experience as there are many unique cultural events that occur. There is a great sense of community and gathering at this time and can be extremely fun!


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