Last Updated: 2nd September, 2019

Onam Celebrations

Onam festival Celebrations

Onam is celebrated with joy and enthusiasm by the Malayalis in Kerala and other parts of the world. There are a wide range of festivities, rituals and customs associated with Onam which is considered as Kerala's harvest festival. Read on to know about Onam celebrations, and enjoy being a part of this biggest event in Kerala.

Onam Celebrations and Traditions

Onam celebration in Kerala involves a wide range of rituals, fun activities, song and dance performances, feasts, and sports events. Below, you will find the details of such events.


Flower Onam Pookalams Design
  • The pookalams in Kerala are just like rangolis but they are not made of colored powders. Instead, the pookalams are created with petals of colorful flowers.

  • They come in a variety of designs that reflect different living objects and add to the beauty of your home. Some of the flowers used for pookalam are Thumbapoo, roses, jasmine, and marigold.

  • The pookalams are usually placed in front of every house as a sign of welcome for the ancient king Mahabali. The king is believed to visit his kingdom, Kerala during Onam to find out whether his subjects are living in happiness and prosperity.


  • An interesting feature of Onam celebrations is a grand procession (or Athachamayam) held on the very first day of Onam (Atham) so as to mark the beginning of this festival.

  • The procession is especially organized at Thirpunithura and Piravom in Kerala. It reminds one of the royal tradition followed by the kings of Kochi, who used to travel to their fort at Thirpunithura during Onam.

  • The highlights of this procession are caparisoned elephants and musical performances. Folk songs and dances are common features of this procession.

Dance Performances

Fig. - Kathakali Dance
  • One of the traditional dances of Kerala that is performed during Onam is the Kaikotti Kali or Thiruvathira Kali.

  • Mostly middle-aged women perform this dance while standing around pookalams.

  • A bronze lamp glowing brightly is kept at the center of the pookalams. A group of 8 to 12 women dressed in saris and accessories are allowed to perform this dance.

  • Another common form of dance that is performed during Onam is Pulikali or Kaduvakali. Mostly men participate in this type of dance. In this form of dance, the artists paint themselves like tigers or lions before they perform. Musical instruments like 'udukku' and 'thakil' are played while the dances are performed.

  • At Valluvanad (primarily in Ottapalam, Shornur regions) and Cheruthuruthy, Kathakali dance performances are conducted during Onam. The dancers wear beautiful costumes and perform on legends and ancient folk tales.

  • Another popular dance performed during Onam is Kummattikali. The Kummattikali dancers are dressed in plaited grass and colorful wooden masks. They usually go from one house to another while performing this traditional dance. Such performances are quite common in Trichur.

  • Another exciting dance performance held during Onam celebration in Kerala is the Thumbi Thullal. It's a folk dance performed by a group of women dressed in traditional wear and ethnic jewelry. All the women except the lead performer sit in the form of a circle. The lead dancer sits within the circle and starts the song. She is then followed by others who take up the song. The women also perform clap dance as part of Onam celebrations.


  • The swing is an essential part of Onam celebrations in Kerala. In rural areas, young men and women clad in colorful clothes have a good time rocking each other on swings that are fixed to long branches of trees. They usually sing Onam songs on this happy occasion. Procession of decked elephants:

  • A procession of elephants clothed in finery is a common feature of Onam celebrations in Kerala, especially in Trichur.

  • The elephants decorated with jewelry and walking along the streets present a spectacular view which excites children as well as adults. To add to the festive spirit, songs, dances, and fun-filled events are held as part of this procession.

Onakalikal or Onam Games

  • The games and sports events held during Onam are collectively known as Onakalikal. Archery is an essential part of Onam games. Kutukutu (Kabaddi) and Kayyankali (one-to-one fight between men) are some of the interesting games played during this festive occasion. The senior members of a family usually indulge in playing chess and cards.

Pookalam Competitions

Onam Pookalam Competitions
  • A number of competitions for creating pookalams are organized as part of Onam celebration in Kerala. A large number of participants give their best efforts to create pookalams with creative and unique designs. Usually, the competitions start on the 4th day of Onam (Vishakam).

Snake Boat Races

  • One of the most interesting events held for Onam celebrations is the snake boat race or Vallamkali. This sporting event is especially popular in Southern Kerala.

  • These boats come with high sterns that look like the hood of a cobra. Aside from snake boats, there are small boats that come with silk umbrellas. Cook-boats are also used for the boat race. One

  • of the most exciting snake boat races is the one held at Aranmulla, on the banks of Pampa river. With the boats decorated with golden lace, a flag, and an umbrella, and the oarsmen clad in white dhotis and turbans, you'll get a spectacular view of the entire event.

Image Worship

Onam Worship
  • Onam celebration in Kerala includes worship of Lord Vishnu in the form of Vamana. This is usually done by the Keralite Hindus. Along with Lord Vishnu, king Mahabali is also worshipped by them.

  • The image worship usually starts from the 8th day of Onam. However, the idol of Mahabali in Thrikkakara temple is worshipped on the first day (Atham Day) itself. The idols are placed at the center of the pookalams.

Celebrations on Thiruvonam

  • Thiruvonam is the 10th day of Onam celebrations. It is one of the most important days of Onam festival. The pookalam designed on this day is the biggest compared to the ones created on other days of Onam.

  • The Malayalis start their preparations for celebrating this day since early morning. They clean their houses and take an early bath so as to indulge in the preparations for Onam celebration. The Malayalis spread rice-flour batter on the entrance of their homes. This is done in order to welcome the spirit of king Mahabali. Then the eldest member of the family gifts new clothes to the young members on Thiruvonam. Next, all members in a family get dressed in new clothes and proceed toward the temples to offer their prayers to Lord Vishnu and king Mahabali.


The major highlights of Thiruvonam

Onam Sadya

Onam Sadya
  • An interesting feature of Onam celebrations is Onam Sadya or Onasadya. It is a grand feast organized by the Malayalis on Thiruvonam. However, in some regions, the feast is hosted from the seventh day of Onam.

  • Onam Sadya includes mouth-watering recipes - around 13 to 15 vegetable curries and sweet dishes like payasham cooked at home and served in plantain leaves.

  • Sometimes, non-vegetarian food is also allowed in the feast. It's a common belief that every Malayali should make preparations for Sadya even if they need to sell their property to get the money for it. Traditional pickles and papadams are also served as part of the meal.

  • Onasadya meal is served to family members who sit on mats placed in a row on the floor. The eldest family member occupies the central seat. A brass lamp is positioned in front of his seat, some distance away. A small plantain leaf is kept close to the brass lamp, on its west. It is on this leaf that Onasadya food items are served.

  • Onam Sadya recipes are a foodie's delight. The green colors of the plantain leaf and various food items included in Onasadya have a tempting appeal and are loved by one and all! Not only are the sadya food items served in a specific order as a custom but also they are savored one by one in a certain order. This makes Onasadya an important feature of Onam celebrations in Kerala and other parts of the world where the Malayalis reside.


  • A fantastic display of fireworks is sure to delight one and all during Thiruvonam. Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi are those areas which turn into a fairyland with sparkling fireworks on display.

Making of clay cones

  • This is a famous tradition followed on Thiruvonam Day. Conical figures made of sticky clay, often resembling various gods and goddesses, are painted red. The figures are then adorned with a mixture of rice flour and water. These conical figures are placed at the entrance of houses, especially at Trikkakara in Cochin.


Celebrations After Thiruvonam

  • Once Thiruvonam ends, the next 2 days are spent on immersing the idols of king Mahabali in rivers or seas.

  • On the day after Thiruvonam, that is Avvittom, the pookalams are removed to mark the end of Onam celebration. In some places, the Pulakali is performed on this day itself. Large processions are also taken out in several places, especially in Trichur.

  • The day after Avvittom is known as Chatyam, when Onam celebrations end with a mega dance festival held in Thiruvananthapuram.

Onam celebration in Kerala and other parts of the world reflect the traditions and customs of the Malayalis. So, if you'd like to celebrate Onam and have an enjoyable experience, gear up and prepare for the festive events on this important occasion.


  • Onam is the occasion when Malayalis shop around and get new clothes for themselves and their dear ones. They renovate their homes and spend time in home decor as part of the festive celebrations

  • The Malayalis also get new furniture for their home decorations during Onam. So, Onam gives them the chance to indulge in an exciting shopping experience.