The Ten Days of Celebration
The celebrations of Onam start on Atham day, 10 days before Thiruvonam. The 10 days are part of the traditional Onam celebrations and each day has its own importance in various rituals and traditions.
Earthen mounds, which look somewhat like square pyramids, representing Mahabali and Vamana are placed in the dung-plastered courtyards in front of the house and beautifully decorated with flowers. Known as ‘Onapookkalam’, it is a carpet made out of the gathered blossoms with one or two varieties of foliage of differing tints pinched up into little pieces to serve the decorator’s purpose.
It is considered a work of art accomplished with a delicate touch and a highly artistic sense of tone and blending. (In a similar manner North Indians make something called "Rangoli" which is made of powders of various colors.) When completed, a miniature pandal, hung with little festoons is erected over it.
1. Atham The first day of Onam Celebrations starts with Atham day in the Malayalam month of Chingam. It is believed that King Mahabali starts his preparations to descend from Pathala to Kerala on this day. The day also marks the start of festivities at Thrikkakara Temple (considered as the abode of Mahabali). The Onam celebrations across the state, starts off with a grand procession at Thrippunithura near Kochi called Athachamayam.
Elephant processions, folk art presentations, music and dancing make Athachamyam a spectacular event which is now aggressively promoted as a tourist event.
The traditional Pookalam (floral carpet) starts on Atham day. The size of pookkalam on this day is called as Athapoo and is small in size. This will grow in size day after day. Only yellow flowers will be used on this day and the design will be simple. Also,the statues of Mahabali and Vamana will be installed at the entrance of each house on this day.
2. Chithira – Second day is marked off when a second layer is added to pookkalam design with 2 different colours apart from yellow (mostly orange and creamy yellow). On this day, people start cleaning the household to prepare for the Thiruvonam day.
3.Chodi – third day of Onam Celebrations.The pookalam now will start growing in its size by adding new layers or designs with at least 4 to 5 different flowers. The day also marks the start of shopping activities. Onam is associated with gifting new clothes, hence from this day onwards people start buying new clothes and jewellery.
4.Vishakam – fourth day of Onam Celebrations : Vishakam is considered to be one of the most auspicious days of Onam. In olden days, the markets open their harvest sale on this day, making one of the busiest days in the markets for public. Today Vishakam marks the start of many Onam-related competitions like Pookalam competitions etc.
5. Anizham – fifth day of Onam Celebrations – Snake Boats get ready to race in the Aranmula Uthrattathi Vallamkali. Anizham is one of the most important day in the Onam days as it kicks off the great Vallam Kali (Snake boat) at many parts of Kerala. A mock Vallam Kali is conducted on this day at Aranmula as a dress-rehearsal for the famed Aranmula boat race which will be held after Onam.
6.Thriketa – sixth day of Onam Celebrations. The public frenzy starts building up. Most of the schools and public offices give holiday from this day onwards and people start packing their bags to their native homes to celebrate the festival with their dear ones. The pookalam design will be very large by this time, with at least 5 to 6 new flowers types added to the original designs.
7.Moolam – seventh day of Onam Celebrations. The smaller versions of traditional Ona Sadya (Onam special buffet lunch) start in many places. Most of the temples offers special sadhyas on from this day. Festivities include Puli Kali (Masked leopard dance) and traditional dance forms like Kaikotti Kali also performed in various functions. The official Government celebrations start on this day with heavy illuminations in Thiruvananthapuram City, Kochi city and Kozhikode along with fireworks.
8.Pooradam – eight day of Onam Celebrations. The day starts off with a major traditional ritual where the small statues of Mahabali and Vamana will be washed and cleaned and taken around the house in a procession. It will be later installed in the center of the pookkalam smeared with a rice-flour batter. The smearing is done by small children who are called Poorada unnikal. From this day onwards, the statue will be called Onathappan. The pookkalam design from Pooradam day onwards gets much bigger and complex in design. Shopping is one of the major activities as the public will be making final purchases for the great Thiruvonam day.
9. Uthradom – Ninth day of Onam Celebrations. It is considered as Onam eve and celebrated in a very big way. The importance of this day is last minute extreme shopping frenzy called as Uthradappachil and is considered the most auspicious day for purchase of fresh vegetables and fruits along with other provisions from the Thiruvonam day.
Uthradam is known as FIRST ONAM because it marks the day when King Mahabali descends onto Kerala and the traditional myths says that the king will spend the next four days touring his erstwhile kingdom and blessing the subjects. Due to this Urthadom is celebrated in a very pompous manner with larger pookkalam and celebrations in household.
The Uthrada lunch is traditionally very famous. Women normally cut the first set of vegetables on this day that marks the celebrations of Thiruvonam in each household and preparations for grand Onam buffet start during the evening of Uthradom day. Pulikali in Thrissur
10.Thiruvonam – tenth day of Onam Celebrations The final day of Onam that culminates the 10 days of Onam Carnival. The day is known as Thiru-Onam (Sacred Onam Day) also known as SECOND ONAM. Myth says, it was the day Mahabali was sent to the netherworld ( Pathalam) by Vamana.
The day marks the return of Mahabali to his fabled land (Kerala), as per the boon he received from Vamana to meet his subjects and bless them. Apart from this myth, this day is considered auspicious being birthdays of several temple deities like Vamana of Thrikkara temple, Sree Padmanabha Swamy of Thiruvananthapuram etc. Though a traditional Hindu festival, Onam today has emerged as a secular festival associated with harvest time of Kerala.