Take Five: 5 Things to Know About Onam

Snake boats get ready to race during the Onam celebration in Kerala.
(photo: Arun Sinha/Wikipedia)

What, exactly, is Onam? Glad you asked.

Onam is the just-completed Hindu harvest festival celebrated in Kerala, India. As Wikipedia puts it:

It is the state festival of Kerala and falls during the month of Chingam (August?September) and lasts for ten days. The festival is marked by various festivities, including intricate flower carpets, elaborate banquet lunches, snake boat races, etc.

The festival has a rich and colorful history, and its observance now extends to all faiths. We asked Thomas Varghese, CNEWA’s vice president for India and Northeast Africa, to share a few things people should know about Onam. He was happy to oblige.

  1. Thripunithura Athachamayam. This is the festival that kicks off all the celebrations. It features a street parade accompanied by decorated elephants and floats, musicians and various traditional Kerala art forms.
  2. Feasting. Bring your appetite! Traditionally, the feasting of Onam is referred to as Onasadya, and it consists of a number of specialties (often more than 20 curries) dished up on a banana leaf.
  3. Pulikkali, or Tiger Play. Hundreds of grown men dress up as tigers and dance to the beat of traditional percussion instruments. It can take hours to decorate just one person?and all body hair has to be removed so that the skin can be painted in intricate detail. There are prizes for best costume, too.
  4. Aranmula Snake Boat Race. This is among the oldest snake boat races in Kerala. The focus is on tradition. About 50 boats take part in the race, which starts in the afternoon and includes religious rituals.
  5. Onam Week. Kerala puts on week-long celebrations around the state’s capital of Trivandrum. Festivities include stage shows, folk art and craft fairs.

For more, you can check out the link at Wikipedia. You can also read more about this year’s celebration in the Times of India. And you’ll find much more?including details about the festival’s origins and rituals?at

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