As we start the countdown to Textile Travels first exciting textile tour of the season, Kerala’s Woven Heritage,https://textiletravels.co.uk/tours/keralas-woven-heritage-tour/ the Onam Festival is happening all over Kerala. It’s the biggest and most spectacular festival of the year. The whole state enjoys ten days of celebrations, music and dance performances, elaborate meals, flower carpets, rowing competitions, and many other cultural events. Usually taking place during August – September, this ancient Hindu event is also called the Festival of Harvest when the lush landscape is at its most abundant after the monsoon rains.
The Onam Festival is the most significant harvest festival in Kerala, celebrating bringing in the harvest after a year of hard work. It attracts thousands of local and international tourists and for culture vultures this is the best time to travel through Kerala to sample its wealth of colourful traditions.
Folk performances and traditional dances fill each day. Highlights amongst the many traditional dances on display include the famous Pulikali or Tiger Dance where the participants bodies are painted in bright colours to look like tigers dancing to the beats of traditional drums. The best time and place to watch the Pulikali performers in action is on the fourth day of the Onam Festival in Thrissur, a district capital in central Kerala. https://www.keralatourism.org/event/pulikali/40
Traditional Kathakali mime/ dance/ theatre performances also figure prominently during this festival. Kathakali entails a ten year training at one of the specialist academies in Kerala. We’ll be visiting the Kerala Kalamandalam, https://www.kalamandalam.ac.in/, one such academy on our Winter ’22 – ’23 tours this year to learn more and see the training in action.
In Hindu households in Kerala, images of Onapottam – the symbolic form of King Mahabali are displayed and local people dress in new and colourful fashions. This year there’s an opportunity to buy handwoven khadi clothes and household linens in Kannur in North Kerala https://english.mathrubhumi.com/special-pages/onam-2022/get-ready-to-celebrate-onam-in-its-essence-with-handicraft-expos-ruled-by-discounts-1.7831647
Not everyone can afford to buy cotton and linen Khadi, handmade textiles which take time and love to produce, They’re premium products appreciated for their breathability and coolness in a tropical climate, so a sale like this is a blessing for Onam.
Enthusiasts of floral design will marvel over the many pookkalams or flower carpets laid out at the entrances of houses and temples. The decorative pookkalams are one of the highlights of the Onam Festival and its most prominent ritual. The making of pookkalams begins on Atham, the first day of the festival, after which new rings of flower petals are added every day until Thiru Onam, the festival’s most important day. By then, the usually circular pookkalam has reached a size of four to five metres in diameter with an intricate design and exquisite colours. There are also contests for the most beautiful and impressive pookkalam during Onam all over Kerala. https://webneel.com/pookalam-designs-onam
Kerala cooking also occupies a major part of the Onam Festival with the strictly vegetarian Onam Sadya as its centrepiece. This is a nine-course meal eaten by hand off banana leaves in the Keralan style. It’s usually held on Thiru Onam, the most important day of the festival. The courses are made up of over two dozen different dishes, The list of possible ingredients is endless, from all kinds of seasonal vegetables, various curries, and spicy side dishes to soups, sweet and sour pickles, chutneys, yoghurts and a series of sweet and savoury desserts.
Origins of Onam festival
Massive displays of fireworks and fire cracker concertos round off these monumental celebrations of the yearly visit to Kerala by the legendary King Mahabali. Legend has it that he offered himself to Vishnu after other gods had complained that he was becoming too powerful in Kerala. Lord Vishnu then appeared as a young boy to King Mahabali and asked him for land that covered three strides. King Mahabali told him to ask for more, but the young boy stuck to his request and Mahabali gave him the land. Vishnu then grew so big that he easily covered all of the land that Mahabali ruled in two strides to show Mahabali how powerful he was. Mahabali then offered himself to Vishnu as the third stride and Vishnu realised what a humble and devoted king he was. As a reward, Vishnu granted Mahabali one day of the year to revist his kingdom as a symbol of his benevolent and virtuous reign.
Learn more about Onam https://www.keralatourism.org/onam-festival
We’ll be learning all about Kerala’s long and illustrious khadi and handloom heritage in our first textile tour of the season, Kerala’s Woven Heritage Tour. Visit our website for full details of all our tours.
We’re so excited to be able to share these immersive tours with fellow textile lovers. https://textiletravels.co.uk/tours/