Kerala is a land celebrated for its rich cultural tapestry and vibrant traditions. Among its many festivals, one stands out as its most famous, and as a symbol of unity and heritage– Onam. This annual extravaganza is steeped in legend and history and brings all those celebrating together!
Join us as we delve into the significance of Onam, unwrapping its historical and cultural significance. Along the way, we'll also explore the exquisite charm of the Kerala Kasavu saree, a treasured element that has withstood the test of time.
The Legends Behind Onam
Stories say that in ancient times, there lived a mighty and benevolent king named Mahabali. Although he came from the demon clan, his people adored him for his kindness. He was said to be a benevolent and just ruler.
His power grew to the point where he ruled over three of the world’s realms: Earth, Heaven, and the Nether World. This made the gods upset, and they sought the help of Lord Vishnu to regain control over these kingdoms.
Taking the form of Vamana, a dwarf, Lord Vishnu approached Mahabali and was granted a wish by the noble king. Vamana asked for just three steps of land. Mahabali agreed to grant him these three paces of land.
The Vamana avatar then grew in size and covered everything the king ruled in just two steps – the Earth and the Heavens. To keep his word and honour, Mahabali offered his head for the third step. With this step, Vamana sent Mahabali to the Nether World.
iMahabali’s gesture deeply moved Lord Vishnu. As a result, he allowed Mahabali to visit his people once a year. Hence, every year on the day of Thiruvonam, it is believed that King Mahabali emerges from the Nether World to be with his people.
Onam has numerous cherished customs and practices that add to the vibrancy and cultural richness of the celebration. From the elaborate floral decorations known as Pookalam to the thrilling snake boat races, each tradition holds a special place in the hearts of Keralites during this festive season.
The boat races, known as "Vallam Kali" in Malayalam, are one of the most exhilarating and iconic aspects of the Onam festival in Kerala. These races involve traditional long snake boats or "chundan vallams" gliding through the serene backwaters and rivers, captivating spectators with their synchronised rowing and competitive spirit.
The origins of the boat races can be traced back to the 13th century. These races were traditionally organised as part of religious rituals and ceremonies, serving as a way to honour deities and rulers. Over time, they evolved into grand, community-driven events that attract locals and tourists alike.
During the festive season, a variety of traditional dance forms come to life, showcasing the cultural richness of the region. These dance forms include Thiruvathira, Kummattikali, Pulikali, Thumbi Thullal, and Onam Kali, among others.
Thiruvathira Kali is a graceful women's dance performed in a circular formation around a lamp. Kummattikali involves vibrant masked dancers who bring colour and liveliness to the celebrations. In some regions, festivities feature captivating processions with elegantly adorned elephants surrounded by Kummatikali performers. These masked dancers visit homes, spreading joy through their colourful performances.
Onam Kali is a unique dance where participants arrange themselves in circles around a pole, tree, or lamp. This dance is accompanied by singing songs derived from revered epics like the Ramayana. These traditional dances add a special touch to the Onam celebrations, embodying the spirit of cultural heritage.
An integral tradition of Onam, Pookalam has come up as an art form. Pookalams are intricate designs made on flat surfaces with flowers. These designs are truly a sight to behold and competitions for decorating Pookalams are organised all over the state. They are extremely popular and witness the participation of a large number of Pookalam designers and onlookers.
The Onam sadya, or feast, is an essential element of the celebration. Reflecting the season's spirit, it features a variety of dishes made from seasonal vegetables. Served on plantain leaves, the feast traditionally consists of nine courses, though it can include over two dozen dishes. These encompass a range of flavours, from chips and pickles to curries like Avial, Sambhar, kaalan, olan, rasam, and more! The meal concludes with a sweet dessert called payasam. Today, the feast can include up to 30 different dishes!
Kasavu sarees, alternatively referred to as Onam sarees or Settu Mundu, are an integral facet of Kerala's culture. Their lovely and distinct golden borders, called Kasavu, hold deep cultural significance and tell tales of the region's glorious past. The Kasavu saree serves as a symbol of unity and equality among the women of Kerala. Regardless of their background, women from all walks of life don this traditional attire during festivals, bridging gaps and fostering a sense of togetherness.
Kasavu sarees have their roots in ancient times. Initially, they were woven with pure gold threads, representing prosperity, wealth, and luxury. As gold became rarer and costlier, artisans started using a blend of gold and copper-coated silver threads. This mixture created the sarees' distinctive golden colour while keeping them affordable. The skill of crafting these sarees has been handed down through generations, safeguarding the artistry and expertise that define them.
Kasavu sarees are not merely garments; they are a reflection of Kerala's soul and spirit. Through the golden borders, these sarees speak of prosperity, heritage, and the harmony between simplicity and grandeur. Fortunately, you don’t have to look too far for your next Onam saree!
Browse the traditional Onam saree collection today with Anya Online today!