India is famous around the world for its vivid cultures and festivals. No matter which part of India you would travel to, with your India tour packages, some or the other festival would be right around the corner for you to experience. If you are planning to travel to South India this August-September, you would be lucky to experience the biggest celebration of Kerala, the Onam festival.

The Onam festival is an annual harvest festival of Malayalis and is the official festival of the Indian State of Kerala. The festival is celebrated with great pomp and grandeur to not only commemorate one but several purposes. The Onam festival celebrates the return of the mythical king Mahabali to Kerala, the end of the monsoon season and the beginning of the harvest season. It is India’s one of the most vibrant and exciting festivals that is celebrated for about 10 days. Onam is celebrated in the month of Chingam (1st month according to the Malayalam calendar, usually the months of August & September according to the Gregorian calendar).

Onam 2022 Date:

The Onam festival of 2022 is going to start on August 30, Tuesday and will end on September 8, Thursday.

Cultural Highlights of the Onam Festival Celebration:

The main highlights of the Onam festival include people holding grand possessions, traditional folk dances and foods, boat races, floral decorations and the prominent highlight of the festival Onam Sadya.


Image Credit: Parikh Mahendra N

This is a grand procession that starts from Tripunithura to the Vamanamoorthy temple in Kochi. The cultural features of the parade are elephants, drums, vibrantly adorned floats, folk art forms, etc.


Overhead view of a Floral carpet (athappookkalam, rangoli), the hallmark of Onam
Overhead view of a Floral carpet (Pookkalam), the hallmark of Onam festival

The Onapookkalam is basically an art form like rangoli but made with flowers. Several varieties of flowers and petals are arranged and decorated in a way to form adorning patterns at the entrances of homes and temples. The Pookkalam is also decorated with lamps.

Traditional Dances

Kathakali performers during the traditional dance of Kerala
Kathakali performers during the traditional dance of Kerala
Image Credit: SN040288

Even though Kathakali is the only popular dance form in Kerala, during the Onam festival one can see several other traditional dance forms come to light. Traditional dances such as Thiruvathira, Pulikali, Kummattikali, Thumbi Thullal and Onam Kali are performed during Onam celebrations.


Boat race during Onam Festival
Boat race during Onam Festival

The snake boat race is a traditional activity in Kerala that includes various kinds of races with paddled longboats, snake boats and traditional Kerala boats. A huge crowd also gathers around the Pampa River in Kerala where the race is held, to witness the race and encourage the canoers.


Eating Ona-Sadya in banana leaf during the festival of Onam
Eating Ona-Sadya in banana leaf during the festival of Onam

The Sadya is a traditional Malayali vegetarian buffet/meal that is served on a banana leaf. The Sadya has several dishes including traditional ones like Rice, Sambar, Chips, Sharkara Varatti, Injipuli, Pappadam, Avial, Olan, Pickle, Dal, Thoran, Ghee, Rasam, Puliseri, Erisheri, Pachadi, Coconut Chutney, Moru and everyone’s favourite Payasam.

Apart from this other celebrations include, donating to charity, buying new clothes, visiting relatives, exchanging gifts and getting decked up in traditional clothes like Mundus and Keralan saris.

Also Read: Why Kerala? The 12 Best Places To Visit In Kerala

Here is how each day of the Onam festival is celebrated:

Day 1- Atham

Athachamayam parade
Athachamayam parade

The first day of Onam celebrations start with an early bath and prayers. They start making the Pookkalam on the first day. The design is the most simple with a single layer of only yellow flowers that can be used. The Athachamayam parade is also held on the first day. Statues of Mahabali and Vamana are placed in the courtyards of houses.

Day 2- Chithira

Second layer added on the Pookkalam

On the second day of the Onam festival, the design of the Pookkalam is extended with two layers of orange and yellow flowers. People clean their houses and also visit temples on this day.

Day 3- Chodhi

Family in traditional kerala dress south indian look
Family in traditional Kerala dress south Indian look

On the third day, another layer of flowers is added to the Pookkalam. On this day, families usually start with shopping for clothes and jewellery. For men, they purchase traditional mundu, married women wear Kasavu sari and unmarried girls wear Pattu Pavadai. All these are Kerala’s traditional wear.

Day 4- Vishakam

Market during Onam
Market during Onam

From the fourth day, the main preparations for the festival start. The preparations for the Onam Sadya dishes start. The Kerala market also starts holding their harvest sales and women get busy stocking up all ingredients. It is the busiest time of the Kerala festival.

Day 5- Anizham

This Boat Race is the oldest river boat fiesta in Kerala
This Boat Race is the oldest river boat fiesta in Kerala
Image Credit:
Rajesh Narayanan

On the fifth day, the Pookkalam gets bigger. On this day, the Vallamkali or boat race is held on the Pampa River. You shouldn’t miss this place in your Kerala tour packages, even if you are visiting Kerala sometime other than Onam.

Day 6- Thriketta

Gifts exchange on Onam
Gifts exchange on Onam

On the sixth day, people usually visit their ancestral or native places and spend time and exchange gifts with families. A fresh layer of flowers is added to Pookkalam.

Day 7- Moolam

Pulikali - Tiger dance Onam perform during parade
Pulikali – Tiger dance Onam perform during parade
Image Credit: AJP

From the seventh day, the festival starts getting more lively. Most temples start offering the Onasadya. Families visit each other and prepare a smaller version of Sadya. Traditional dances like Pulikali and Kaikottukali are also performed across Kerala.

Day 8- Pooradam

Onathappan: Statues of Vamana and Mahabali
Onathappan: Statues of Vamana and Mahabali

On the eighth day, families continue visiting each other and exchanging gifts. Now not only more fresh flowers are added to the Pookkalam but also the clay statues of Mahabali and Vamana, called ‘Onathappan’ are installed in the centre of the Pookkalam. These statues are like symbols of invitation to Mahabali.

Day 9- Uthradam

Ready to welcome King Mahabali
Ready to welcome King Mahabali

On the ninth day, the festival preparation is at its peak. All the final house cleanings and Onam shopping is done on this day as everybody gets ready to welcome King Mahabali.

Day 10- Thiruvonam

Welcoming King Mahabali
Rice flour rangoli drawn at entrance to welcome King Mahabali

This is the final and main day of the Onam festival. All members of the family bathe and dress up in new clothes early. Rice flour batter is applied at home entrances as a traditional welcome sign. People visit temples and make donations to the poor and needy. It is said that on this day, King Mahabali visits and blesses every house in Kerala. All day long there is folk music and dance performances. Families gather together to feast on the Onasadya and the evening is celebrated with bright lights and fireworks.

This is how the 10 days of the Onam festival are celebrated in Kerala. There are some post-Onam celebrations like Avittom and Chathayam. Cities of Kerala like Trivandrum, Palakkad and Ernakulam have mass celebrations of Onam. Onam is said to be a Kerala special festival but it is celebrated in many other places not only within India but internationally like the UAE, USA Singapore and many other countries.

Onam is a peak festival time in Kerala, as many natives return to Kerala or travel across India to visit their families. Book your  accomodation and flight tickets in advance to avoid last-minute hassles.

What better time to visit ‘God’s Own Country’, Kerala other than this beautiful Onam festival? Combine your Kerala trip with any other domestic locations of India to add to the holiday experience.

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