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Onam - Most Famous Festival of Kerala

5 Most Famous Festivals of Kerala (2021)

God’s own country, Kerala, is a tourist’s paradise. Apart from the lush green and bountiful natural beauty the state is blessed with, it also has a lot to offer in the form of culture, traditions, cuisine, and of course, its colorful festivals. The culture of Kerala is diverse and primarily influenced by Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity. There are many festivals that are celebrated in the state of Kerala, and each festival has its own share of different music, dresses, colors, and even fragrance.

These numerous festivals provide the perfect glimpse into the rich heritage of Kerala. There are also several important temple festivals that are celebrated for a number of days. Here are some of the most famous festivals in Kerala.

5 Most Famous Festivals of Kerala

1. Onam

Onam is the most popular festival in Kerala. Celebrated between August and September, during this time of the year, the state of Kerala comes to a standstill as elephants, trumpets, drums, boat races, art, music, dances, floral decorations, rituals, colors, lights, and traditional cuisine take over the streets of Kerala. The spirit of Onam is such that it is spread throughout the world today. Onam - Most Famous Festival of Kerala

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Onam is the biggest traditional festival of Kerala and the Malayalee community. It is a religious and cultural festival that is celebrated by Malayalees all over the world.

The festival typically falls in the month of Chingam in the Malayalam calendar, which falls somewhere in the months of August-September as per the Gregorian calendar. In 2020, the festival took place from August 22 to September 2. This festival is spread out over several days with great pomp and a diverse range of activities. The festival is celebrated with a lot of enthusiasm with various events like dance competitions, boat races, floral and colorful rangoli arts, and much more.

The onset of Onam begins with a procession that starts from Thirupunithara in Kochi. This parade is a showcase of the culture of the state. Elephant marches, festival flag hoisting, folk art representations, drum beats, colorfully decorated floats depicting the scenes from Ramayana and Mahabharata are just some of the highlights of this festival parade. For decades now, the procession path leads to the temple from Thirupunithara, dedicated to the Vamana avatar of Lord Vishnu.

The festival of Onam is traditionally spread over ten days, with each day having its own specialty. Most Hindus in Kerala still celebrate the festival in its pure traditional form and follow all ten days.

  1. Day 1 of the festival begins with Atham, where the festivities start at the Vamanamoorthy Thirrikara Temple in Kochi. A grand and massive procession is held, known as Athachamayam. After this, there is a laying of the Pookalam made up only of yellow petals. As each day of Onam passes, one after another, Pookalam is laid here.
  2. Day 2 of Onam is known as Chithira, in which two layers of orange and creamy yellow flowers are placed on the Pookalam. It is tradition to carry out deep cleaning of their houses and visit temples on this day.
  3. Day 3 of Onam involves people buying new clothes, a day that is known as Onakkodi. Men buy mundu, and women dress up in Kasavi sarees. Families go shopping and also gift jewels and clothes to one another. The third layer of flowers is added on this day to the Pookalam.
  4. Day 4 of Onam is known as Vishakam and is considered to be the most auspicious day as the preparation of Onasadya starts. Women buy ingredients, and there is also a harvest sale at every market. Nearly 25 to 30 dishes are prepared on this day as Onasadya involves filling up the banana leaf with as many dishes to ensure there is no space left on the leaf.
  5. Day 5 is known as Anizham and is marked by the snake boat races or Vallamkali. The race begins on the Pamba River, and the Pookalam grows bigger as more layers of flowers are added.
  6. Day 6 of Onam is known as Thriketa, during which families visit their ancestral homes and spend time with each other. More fresh flowers are added to the Pookalam.
  7. On day 7 of the festival, known as Moolam, temples start offering Onasadya as various dance performances are held in temples and family gatherings.
  8. Day 8 is known as Pooradam, and it begins with the installation of clay statues of Vamana and Mahabali, a tradition known as Onathappam in the center of the Pookalam. These statues are an invitation to King Mahabali to visit each house.
  9. Day 9 of Onam is known as Uthradam and is considered to be the day when the festivities are at their peak. This is also known as First Onam, and it is an auspicious day for purchasing fruits and vegetables. The belief is that King Mahabali arrives in Kerala on this day, so people clean their houses and complete any last-minute Onam shopping.
  10. Day 10, known as Thiruvonam Onam, is the main day of the festival. People make designs with rice flour batter at the entrance of their homes and dress up in new clothes.

It is believed that King Mahabali visits each home to bless each family in Kerala. The Pookalam is completed by this day, and all families gather to feast on the Onasadhya.

2. Vishu

Another important festival in Kerala is Vishu. This is considered to be the second-most important festival in the state of Kerala as it denotes the start of a New Year. Vishu typically falls on the 14th, 15th, or 16th of April. The day is of great importance as it is believed that how this day goes will determine how the rest of the year is going to go.

There is a traditional belief in Kerala that the entire year depends on the first thing that a person will see on the morning of Vishu. This is why people try to see an auspicious item upon waking up on the morning of Vishu.

The major attractions of this festival are that the first gift of the year is given by elders to the young ones in the family. Shopping for the entire family and ending the day with a beautiful fireworks display marks the festival of Vishu.

3. Thrissur Pooram

Temple festivals in Kerala are of equal importance as any other religious festival. Thrissur Pooram is held at the Vadukkannathan Swamy Temple in Thrissur every year in the months of April to May. Today, Thrissur Pooram is one of the most renowned temple festivals in all of Southern India.

To mark the festival, people sit on huge elephants that are specially decorated and decked up for the occasion. The festival carries out over three days, during which time people do their traditional worshipping, decorate their houses, and mark the end of the festival with a breathtaking fireworks display.
Famous Festival of Kerala-Thrissur PooramImage Source

The festival of Thrissur Pooram is celebrated to worship Lord Shiva and involves a lot of music, colors, delicious cuisine, and beautifully decorated elephants.

Over 300,000 people from all over India flock to Kerala to attend this festival, and all hotels are booked well ahead of time as people father to check out the fantastic fireworks and elephant parade that takes place.

4. Thiruvathira

Celebrated in the months of December or January, this festival is a dedication to Lord Shiva. It is considered to be very auspicious to worship Lord Shiva on this day, and all devotees of the god visit various temples to seek the Lord’s blessings.
Popular Festival of Kerala-ThiruvathiraImage Source

It is believed that this festival marks the day when Lord Shiva killed the God of Love, Kamadeva. To mark the occasion, women get up at 4 in the morning to have a bath and sing songs dedicated to the God of Love.

5. Theyyam Festival

The Theyyam festival is synonymous with the beautiful masks we have often seen on TV and images of Kerala. This 800-year-old festival brings together people from all over India to perform various dances while dressed up as different gods and goddesses.

The performers at the festival have to go through three main stages for their performance.
Best Festival of Kerala-Theyyam FestivalImage Source

  • Stage 1 involves covering themselves with flowers, colors and donning their masks.
  • Stage 2 involves self-torture.
  • Stage 3, the most important step of the festival, involves the performers dancing to the rhythm of drums and cymbals.

The Theyyam festival is celebrated with a lot of pomp and on a large scale.