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Sep 12

Written by: Jennifer Kumar, Cultural Adjustment Coach
Friday, September 12, 2008

Submitted by: BN Kartha


This article, written by my father-in-law, BN Kartha showcases a wonderful writing talent! He has written this in such a way you would think it is written by me only! Thanks, Dad!

Onam and other select Hindu holiday dates in 2010.

 Happy Onam to all!!

Onam, the Kerala festival falls this year on the 2nd September, 2009 and will be celebrated by every Keralite, whether living within Kerala or in elsewhere in India or abroad,  together with their family and friends without any discrimination of caste or class.

ONAM. This word had no significance to me till about the year 2000 when I just learnt that this was one of the religious festivals of Kerala.  Again did not attach much importance to it, was more or less a casual festival of South India as far as I was concerned.  Then as days went by, I got married to a Keralite and I developed a quest to learn more about Kerala, its rituals and festivals.  Last year I, with my husband and father-in-law, who joined us for the Onam celebration, celebrated the festival at our house, creating a pookkalam (flower design or ‘flower carpet’) and even an ‘Onathappan’ (cone seen in the middle of the pookkalam in photo above) and invited some friends both Keralites and Americans to a mini ‘Onasadhya.’ Onasadhya means Onam (ona) feast (sadhya).  Later on we as a Malayali community celebrated Onam at the Indian community centre with onasadhya, thiruvathira kali and other cultural activities. I actually had the opportunity to dance thiruvathira. You can see our dance in the YouTube videos below.

By this time I had learned that Onam to Keralites is the most important festival of the year. In fact, most impressive to me was the fact that Onam is the one festival in Kerala celebrated by one and all irrespective of cast or creed – all communities joined the festival and of late, this festival has been declared a State (Kerala) Festival. This day, called Thiruvonam’ which falls on the thiruvonam (Malayalam nakshatra) day in the month of Malayalam era ‘Chingamasam’ (August-September) is the main day of the festival lasting for ten days starting from ‘Atham’ day of  chingamasam. 

The story of this day goes thus:  An Asura (demon) king – Mahabali - used to rule Kerala. In that time everybody lived in peace, everything was in plenty, none indulged in doing wrongs, telling lies or betraying one another.  All the people were happy about his rule and thus the king’s popularity grew to such a proportion that the Gods were shaken and even thought at this rate one day people will ignore Gods and thus they will no more be worshipped or liked by the people.  Therefore a delegation of Gods approached Vishnu to save them from this growing ignonimity.  Vishnu then took the avtar of a Vamana, Brahmin Bikshu and approached Mahabali for alms.  Mahabali was known for his habit of giving alms to Brahmins and never to say ‘no’ to anyone who approached him for alms.  Mahabali when approached by Vamana (Vishnu in disguise) readily agreed and asked what he would need.  To this the Brahmin said that he has no place to live and needed only ‘three steps of land’ (moonu adi mannu). Mahabali gave him the alms and asked him to measure the land wherever he pleases. (Our community actor depecting Mahabali pictured here.)

Once this happened, the Brahmin, thus far too short in height, grew in size and into colossal height and his first step covered the whole land, the second the sky and he was looking at the king asking where to put the third step.  The King Mahabali, realizing that the Brahmin is no ordinary person but Vishnu himself, and had tricked him into this, bowed before him and requested to use his head to put his third step, realizing that otherwise his third step will make the universe disappear.  It was so done by the Brahmin (Vishnu in disguise) and Mahabali was pushed down by his third step into the ‘pathalam’ the nether world.

Mahabali, however, had requested the Brahmin (Vishnu) to allow him to come to the land once a year to meet his people and see and join in their happiness.  The request was granted and this was the day –ONAM – when Mahabali came to earth to watch his people rejoicing and happy.


Related posts/links:  The Dance of Slow Gracefulness: Thiruvathirakali  |  Vedic Tamil Hindi and Malayalam Calendar  |  Our Onam Photos (flickr slideshow) |  GRAMNY Malayalee Association, Rochester NY USA  | Onam Sadhya Overload

Thiruvathira part one



Thiruvathira part two- Kummi



Onam celebrations start in the Malayalam month of Chingam on Atham nakshatram and culminate on Thiruvonam nakshatram and is observed as Thiruvonam (Day of ONAM), the day it is believed that Mahabali comes to see his praja and rejoice.  The days (nakshatras) of Onam celebrations are Atham, Chitra, Choti, Visakham, Anizham, Trikketta, Moolam, Pooradam, Uthradam, Thiruvonam (Uthradam is observed as Onnam Onam - first Onam, Thiruvonam - ONAM, and the next day i.e. Avittam Nakshatra as Moonam Onam - third onam).

On all days, starting from Atham, flower arrangements are made on the foreground of the house.

Often times, calendars outside Kerala, and especially US will quote one day only as Onam festival. The day quoted is actually ThiruOnam, not the first day.

Want to know when is Onam in 2010, 2011, 2012 and beyond? Follow my India America Interfaith and Social Calendar!

Tutorial on reading and wishing Happy Onam in Malayalam

Thank you for reading!

Related Posts/Links:
Global Onam Photos Flickr Group 
More on Onathappam- also known as Thrikkakara Appan - The Clay Pyramid Structure used during Onam
Onam and Diwali, a Mysterious Connection
The Ten Days of Onam  
Thiruvathirakali Dance Performed for Onam
Thiruvathira - Folk Dance Performed During Onam in Kerala India




==article concluded==

Owner of this blog; Jennifer Kumar, CC, MSW, is a cross-cultural coach helping people find comfort in foreign lands through multicultural advising, interfaith coaching, expat mentoring, English as Second Language conversational and life skills coaching and more! Contact her for more information at authenticjourneys at gmail dot com or follow her on Facebook. Read more about her bio and credentials here.
Updated February 2011



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Copyright ©2008 Jennifer Jayanthi Kumar, Cross-Cultural Coach


1 comments so far...

Dussehra Hindu Festival vijayadasami puja

Hi this is Dussehra.what is onam", "story of onam", mahaveli, "king mahaveli.

- Thank you for leaving your feedback here.
I am a bit confused. I know there are some similarities between Onam and Dusshera, now that I am thinking of it. Girls dancing in a circle to music is the similarity, possibly. What other criteria in this article remind you of Dusshera? Thank you.

By Dussehrafeste on   Thursday, February 25, 2010

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