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Onam: A 10 Day Carnival and Harvest Festival of Kerala

8 mins. read

A vibrant and colourful festival, Onam is often referred to as the ‘festival of flowers’ which refreshes childhood memories. The people of Kerala adorn themselves in festive attire on these ten days. After the heavy monsoon season, the fresh floral essence spreads a blissful aroma all around. The dishes prepared during this National Festival of Kerala are so flavourful and mouthwatering that it makes everyone want to dig into the delicacies as soon as they arrive at the table.

Onam is celebrated in memory of the great and benevolent king Mahabali who ruled Kerala once upon a time. The mythological interpretation surrounding the story involves King Mahabali being pushed down to hell by Lord Vishnu who disguised himself as Dwarf Vamana on behalf of the gods who were jealous of the prosperity and affluence of Mahabali. But he was granted a wish to visit his kingdom once every year and this day came to be celebrated as Onam. On this day, the whole community comes together and celebrates the prosperity and wealth that was guaranteed only after the harvest for many.

Apart from the joyous festivities of family get-togethers and feasting, there are various energetic and mirthful activities that enthral during Onam. Here are some of the most riveting and inviting festival attractions during the 10 days of the Onam Festival. Come join the fun!

Thripunithura Athachamayam

Marking the beginning of Onam, Thripunithura Athachamayan is a cultural fiesta featuring a street parade where you get a rare opportunity to witness almost all the folk forms of Kerala. The parade is accompanied by caparisoned elephants, floats, musical ensembles, and a variety of folk art forms. Book a Kerala tour package so that you do not miss a chance to be a part of this legendary ceremony that commemorates the victory of the Raja of Kochi.

Aranmula Snake Boat Race

One of the oldest river boat fiestas in India, Aranmula Snake Boat Race is celebrated on the fifth day of the Onam festival. The snake boats which adorn this occasion glide gracefully and elegantly along the river Pampa. The captivating mantras sung by the oarsmen echo in the mind and soul like a cheerful refrain after the race is over. Hundreds and thousands of spectators, both local and international, come a long way to throw themselves into this glorious carnival and bring back unforgettable memories with them. This celebration also holds a special historical significance for many Hindu followers. It is believed that Arjuna, one of the Pandava brothers, after a long period of patience, came back to the town of his birth carrying an idol of Lord Krishna. But due to heavy floods, he could not cross the river Pampa. A passerby offered to take him across in a makeshift boat. Thus, to honor the service extended to Arjuna by a local man, boat races take place every year on the Pampa river just opposite the Krishna Temple. More than 50 boats participate in the race commencing in the afternoon after all religious rituals are over.


Well, if you have heard of the Shiah people flogging themselves on the day of Moharram, Onathallu is similar to that. The tradition of Onathallu follows groups beating each other up. This is a barehanded fight where the combats face each other without any weapons or rigid rules and hit the back of their friends softly. However, it is prohibited to hit the face or punch and kick the opponent. From boys of 12 years of age to 40-year-old men, all dressed in white dhotis wrapped like shorts,  participate in this fun-filled activity which is more of a joyful celebration. It is believed that Onthallu, a part of the Onam celebration, tests the stamina, skill, and physical abilities of men, ideating the martial spirit of great warriors.

Tiger Dance

Also known as Pulikali, meaning the ‘play of the tiger’, it was introduced by the former Maharaja of Kochi 200 years ago who wanted to dance all wild and savage with an abundance of manliness. Cool, isn’t it?! Hundreds of performers carry this tradition forward every year by painting themselves up as tigers and dance to the sounds of traditional music. The performers move in street processions and shake their bellies to the rhythm and pounding of the drum, offering a delightful and entertaining view to the spectators. The best place to watch the show is at Swaraj Round in the Thrissur district of Kerala. The idea of fusing a man and a beast in an artistic manner is to flamboyantly celebrate the deep-rooted connection between humans and nature.

Kaikottikali Dance

After the participation of men in various activities, now it is time for the women to rock the Onam celebrations with their popular folk group dance known as Kaikottikali Dance which is performed by Kerala maidens in traditional attire. A group of eight to ten women moves in a circle where one performer sings the first line of the song followed by a chorus. Puranic stories, folk tales, devotional songs are sung in this festival and welcome the king to the state of Kerala with grandeur.

Thumbi Thullal Dance

Another captivating all-women song and art form that rules the 7th day of the Onam festival is the Thumbi Thullal dance. While men engage themselves in energetic sports activities,  womenfolk perform Thumbi Thullal and have their share of fun. The main performer sits in the centre of a circle and initiates a song in her melodious voice and is followed by other women. Joyful claps and cheers go in rhythm along with the singing. The ladies adorn themselves in beautiful white sarees, wear stunning pieces of jewellery, fragrant gajras, and look no less than goddesses.  It is a colourful spectacle to watch the Malayali women in their carefree mood. The event continues amidst jeers and laughter till the day comes to an end.


A celebration with a valiant display of all the skills and expertise that rules the Keralites is displayed through several games collectively known as Onakalikal. Men participate in Talappanthukali which is similar to football but is played with a ball made of several layers of dried plantain and a solid stone in between where the men are divided into two teams, one of which protects the ball and the other tries to get the ball. The natives also engage in a fun and recreational game which resembles the game of Kabaddi, the only difference being the participants utter the word kutu kutu instead of kabaddi to keep track of the attackers. Many such traditional games embellish the festival and form a part of the Malayali culture where people forget their sorrows and hatred towards each other and come together to celebrate the homecoming of Mahabali. 

Best time to visit

Being in Kerala during the Onam festival is an enchanting affair as one gets a chance to witness such hidden gems of the native culture in its raw form. People playing, dancing, singing, and worshipping at the same time set up a festive mood and makes the tourists want to return each year to be a part of this revelrous 10-day celebration.

Apart from the grandeur of festivities, there are many places to visit in Kerala where you can lose yourself in the lap of mother nature and enjoy the harmony of long coconut trees, blue mountains, and rivers. Treat yourself with traditional accommodations such as farm stays, boathouses and enjoy the authentic rituals of Onam as you bring home a pocket full of sweet memories.

August 08, 2021


Veena World
Veena World

We are an Indian travel company founded in 2013 and excel at domestic and international tour packages including guided group tours, specialty tours, customized holidays, corporate MICE travel, inbound travel and destination weddings.

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