Onam: Everything To Know About The Harvest Festival of The Malayali Community

May/08/2022 / by Richa Sharma
Onam Festival
Image credits: New India Express

Onam is an annual harvest celebration of the Malayali community in the Indian state of Kerala. It is a significant yearly event for Keralites and serves as the state’s official festival, including a variety of cultural activities. Onam is a Hindu festival that honors King Mahabali and Vamana.

Mahabali is described in the textual tradition (mainly the Mahabharata) as an Asura who attained nirvana at the feet of Vishnu via compassion and religious rectitude. However, the same myth cycle has been interpreted in a variety of ways. Mahabali is depicted as a cultural hero in state-sponsored celebrations: a kind and generous king who decided to give up his rule/life to protect his followers and was permitted to return once a year by Vamana.

The celebration is likely to have ancient beginnings and was subsequently inextricably tied to Hindu tales. Maturaikkci — a Sangam poetry – has the first recorded reference to Onam being celebrated at Madurai temples. Since then, several temple inscriptions document Onam festivities. The date is depending on the Panchangam, which occurs on the 22nd Nakshatra Thiruvonam in the month Chingam of the Malayalam calendar, which corresponds to August–September in the Gregorian calendar.

When Is Onam In 2022?

Onam, the ten-day festival that commemorates King Mahabali’s yearly homecoming as well as Lord Vishnu’s Vaman avatar, will begin on August 30 this year. However, the festival, which is extensively observed in Kerala, will begin with Thiruvonam on 30 August and conclude on 8 September.

Onam is observed in Malayalam on the day of Thiruvonam nakshatra (Shravana asterism) in the month of Chingam.

History and Significance of Onam

Onam Festival
Image credits: News 18

Despite his demonic nature, King Mahabali was famed for his generosity and kindness, and his reign is considered the golden age of Kerala, which is why his return is so highly welcomed. Mahabali ascended to power, according to Vaishnava mythology, by battling the gods and conquering the three planets.

The gods were displeased with his popularity and requested Lord Vishnu’s assistance in defeating the demon ruler. Vishnu consented to assist but refused to fight Mahabali, who was a passionate devotee. Rather than that, he assumed the shape of a lowly dwarf Brahmin (his Vamana avatar from the Dasavatara) and traveled to Mahabali, requesting three wishes from the monarch. Mahabali granted the Brahmin the property right to a plot of land measuring “three paces.”

In only two steps, the dwarf expanded in size and encompassed all Mahabali reigned over. Mahabali gave his skull as the third step.

However, thrilled by Mahabali’s dedication and good actions, Vishnu permitted him to visit earth once a year – it is this yearly visit that is celebrated as Onam. Additionally, it is a rice harvest holiday.

The preparations begin ten days before to the three significant days. In their courtyards, residents create ‘flower mats’ known as Pookalam (a floral rangoli).

On this occasion, known as ‘onasadya,’ lavish feasts are prepared. It consists of 13 courses. The cuisine is often served on banana leaves and consists of rice and a variety of side dishes, pickles, and papads. Payasam, a traditional sweet delicacy, is a must-have during Onam. It is a rice pudding cooked with milk, sugar, and coconut.

Vallamkali, or boat racing, is another tradition associated with Onam festivities. The snake-shaped boats are raced against one another by hundreds of oarsmen. However, because of the epidemic, festivities are expected to be limited this year.

Additionally, celebrations include traditional dance, music, and games generally referred to as Onakalikal. All of this is done to demonstrate to King Mahabali how affluent and happy his people are.

The Ten-Day Event of Onam

Onam Festival
Image credits: Two Circles

Each day of Onam has its own name, importance, and activities that participants engage in to commemorate the occasion. Additionally, there are a few post-Onam festivities that go longer than 10 days. Here is all you need to know about each of the ten days of the Onam celebration.


The first day of Onam is marked by individuals adorning their houses with yellow flowers called Pookalam. Each day of the festival, when a new layer is added, these blooms expand in size. The decorations are made to welcome King Mahabali’s spirit, in whose honor Onam is observed.


Chithira is the festival’s second day. On this day, worshippers do the traditional home cleaning and put another layer of flowers to the Pookalam. This is the most favorable day to buy fresh vegetables and fruits, as well as other necessities.


On the third day of the celebration, people gather to enjoy the fortunate occasion and purchase presents for one another, such as new garments, dubbed Onakodi, and jewelry.


Preparations for the Onam Sadhya begin on the fourth day, which is considered the most auspicious day of the celebration. While the amount of meals varies for each household, the majority of them prepare 26 delights.


The fifth day sees the snake boats preparing for the race at Aranmula Uthrattathi Vallamkali, Kerala’s oldest riverside festival. This is the most significant day of the Onam celebrations since it marks the start of Vallamkali, the snake boat race.


By the sixth day, the Pookalam has grown to enormous proportions, with at least five or six more blooms added to the original pattern. The festivities begin in earnest as adults take time off from work and youngsters take time off from school to celebrate Onam.


Families visit one another on the seventh day, and temples begin providing special Sadhyas. Additionally, some locations host performances of Puli Kali (Masked leopard dance) and indigenous dance traditions like Kaikottikali. Additionally, the state is decked beginning on the seventh day.


On this day, tiny figurines of Mahabali and Vamana are collected from around the home and placed in the Pookalam’s center.


It is said that King Mahabali arrives in the state on the ninth day. It is regarded as the most auspicious day, as people begin purchasing fresh vegetables and preparing traditional dishes.


Thiruvonam is the festival’s concluding day. Individuals clean their homes, spread rice flour batter on the main door, take an early bath, change into new attire, and partake in Onam Sadhya feasts. Additionally, people participate in a variety of games and activities to commemorate the holiday. Additionally, the family’s oldest female member provides new clothing to the other members.

The Customary Feast of Onam

Onam Festival
Image credits: Hindustan Times

It includes Kalan (sweet potato and yam coconut curry), Olan (white gourd prepared in coconut curry), Avial (seasonal vegetables prepared in coconut curry), Kootu curry (chicken curry), rasam (a soup-like dish made with tomato and pepper, served with rice and other preparations), and the much-loved dessert, Parippu payasam (a rice kheer preparation).

FAQs About Onam

Why is Onam so special?

Onam is a secular harvest festival celebrated by people of all classes and faiths. The festival celebrates the mythological King Mahabali’s homecoming, whom Malayalees adore as their King. Each year, the monarch pays a visit to his people to ascertain their happiness.

Onam is dedicated to which god?

Lord Vishnu was moved by Mahabali’s devotion and offered him the blessing of visiting his realm once a year. Onam commemorates this return to Mahabali. Onam serves as a reminder of Mahabali’s virtue and humility in maintaining his commitment to Vishnu.

What foods are consumed on Onam?

Here Are the Top Ten Onam Sadhya Recipes:
Thenga choru
Paal Payasam
Kadala Curry

What is the name of the huge Onam feast?

During Onam festival, the people of Kerala make extensive preparations and also enjoy a magnificent feast called Onam Sadhya or Onam Sadya. The term ‘Onam’ alludes to Kerala’s rice harvest. Vallamkali, the snake boat race, is one of the most intriguing rituals associated with Onam.


Now that you know everything about Onam, it’s time to get ready to celebrate this festival with a lot of pomp and love! For more blogs about popular Indian festivals, keep reading Seema!


Sign Up to Our Newsletter

Get notified about exclusive stories every week!

You have successfully subscribed to the newsletter

There was an error while trying to send your request. Please try again.

Seema will use the information you provide on this form to be in touch with you and to provide updates and marketing.