Onam Festival

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Come celebrate, the harvest festival of Kerala with its king Mahabali and his fellow malayalees, as they get ready to weclome the harvest season in true traditional style and pomp! Witness the different dances of Onam performed by our very own, experience the taste of an onasadhya, marvel at the pookalam, learn more about the origins of Onam, and much more all at... Onam 2010 Venue Date: Time:

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Onam, the most important and significant festival for Keralites, witnesses the festive mood and the traditional aspect of the Malayalam culture with the backdrop of Hindu mythology. The seasoned harvest festival seems to swing Kerala people with its lap of celebration. People are found decorating their homes with floral carpets avoiding the class, caste and religion differences, to welcome the mythological character demon (Asura) King Mahabali, who was banished to the netherworld by Lord Vishnu's incarnation of Vamana- the dwarf. The festival Onam comes with the significance of a mythological story that the Asura King Mahabali- grandson of Prahlad was boastful of his nature of donating. With his heroic potentiality, Mahabali became the ruler of all the three worlds defeating the Devas- the gods. Lord Vishnu, who never tolerates attitude of ego and pride, took an incarnation of a Brahmin Vamana (dwarf) and stepped in to the King Mahabali and asked for three steps of land on the occasion of a powerful Yajna. King Bali suddenly agreed to donate to the disguised Lord.

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Lord Vishnu, who never tolerates attitude of ego and pride, took an incarnation of a Brahmin Vamana (dwarf) and stepped in to the King Mahabali and asked for three steps of land on the occasion of a powerful Yajna. King Bali suddenly agreed to donate to the disguised Lord. In order to keep his promise, King Bali offered himself to the Vamana who pressed his almighty foot on Bali's head and pushed him into the nether world at his third step.Being pleased with Bali's adherence and sacrifice for keeping up his word, Lord Vishnu allowed him to visit his land once a year, which terms as the festival of Onam. The festival symbolizes self surrender, crushing the ego that ultimately results the spiritual enlightment. Onam is also known as Kerala's rice harvest festival and the festival of rain flowers which falls on the Malayalam month of Chingam during August/September every year. The 10-day festival is celebrated with Pookalam, the multicoloured flower arrangements, Vallamkali, the snake boat race, the procession of caprisoned elephants and various dance forms like Kaikotti Kali, Thumbi Thullal, Pulikali, Kaduvakali, Kathakali etc. People celebrate it making delicious Kerala dishes and serve it on the banana leaf during evening. With friends and relatives, they used to perform all the rituals in an impressive way.

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Onam is the biggest festival in the Indian state of Kerala. Onam Festival falls during the Malayali month of Chingam (Aug - Sep) and marks the homecoming of legendary King Mahabali. Carnival of Onam lasts for ten days and brings out the best of Kerala culture and tradition. Intricately decorated Pookalam, ambrosial Onasadya, breathtaking Snake Boat Race and exotic Kaikottikali dance are some of the most remarkable features of Onam - the harvest festival in Kerala.

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Onam in Kerala Onam is the biggest festival of Kerala. But, there is a lot more to Onam than being just a festival. Onam reflects the faith of the people of Kerala; A belief in their legendary past, religion and power of worship. It shows the high spirit of the people who go out of the way to celebrate the festival in the prescribed manner and a grand fashion. Best of Season and WeatherOnam is also a harvest festival. It is celebrated at a time when everything appears so nice and good. The beautiful landscape of Kerala can be seen in its full radiance at this time of the Malayalam New Year. Weather, it seems, also seeks to be a part of the festival. It contributes by becoming pleasantly warm and sunny. Fields look brilliant with a bountiful harvest. Farmers feel on top of the world as they watch the result of their hard labour with pride. Children's Joy and HomecomingChildren eagerly wait for the arrival of the carnival. Why shouldn't they. It is time for them to get new clothes, toys and everything else they asked for or thought of. Numerous uncles, aunts and grandmas grace their wishes with delight. It is also a time for homecoming for people staying away from the families. Their arrival multiples the joy of the festival several folds. Welcoming a Very Special VisitorOnam awaits one very special visitor, Kerala's most loved legendary King Maveli. He is the King who once gave the people a golden era in Kerala. The King is so much attached to his kingdom that it is believed that he comes annually from the nether world to see his people living happily. It is in honour of King Mahabali, affectionately called Onathappan, that Onam is celebrated.

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Womenfolk make special arrangements to welcome Onathappan. Flower carpets are laid in the front courtyards with dedication and full sincerity. A grand meal is prepared on the day of Thiru Onam. It is on this day that Maveli's spirit visits Kerala. Lip smacking meal consists of best of Kerala cuisine including avial, sambhar, rasam, parippu and the payasam.Cultural Extravaganza One of the most marvelous facets of Onam is the unfolding of its rich and well-established culture. We see not just glimpses but a whole gamut of it in the ten-day-long carnival. Pulikali, Kaikottikali, Kummattikalli, Kathakali, Thumbi Thullal besides several other folk arts and traditions can be seen on one platform called Onam. Of Unity and Team SpiritThe beauty of the festival lies in it's secular fabric. People of all religions, castes and communities celebrate the festival with equal joy and verve. Onam also helps to create an atmosphere of peace and brotherhood by way of various team sports organised on the day. Onam is the passion of the people of Kerala. And, pride of India!

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What is Onam? Onam is the biggest and the most important festival of the state of Kerala. It is a harvest festival and is celebrated with joy and enthusiasm all over the state by people of all communities. According to a popular legend, the festival is celebrated to welcome King Mahabali, whose spirit is said to visit Kerala at the time of Onam. Onam is celebrated in the beginning of the month of Chingam, the first month of Malayalam Calendar (Kollavarsham). This corresponds with the month of August- September according to Gregorian Calendar. Carnival of Onam lasts from four to ten days. First day, Atham and tenth day, Thiruonam are most important of all. Popularity and presentation of rich culture of the state during the carnival made Onam the National Festival of Kerala in 1961. Elaborate feasts, folk songs, elegant dances, energetic games, elephants, boats and flowers all are a part of the dynamic festival called Onam. Government of India has taken due notice of this vibrant and colorful festival. It promotes Onam internationally in a big way and celebrates 'Tourist Week' for Kerala during Onam celebrations. Thousands of domestic and foreign tourists visit Kerala to be a part of Onam.

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Legends of Onam Just as in the case of many other festivals of India, there are several interesting legends behind the origin of Onam. The festival is celebrated by all in the state of Kerala, but Nambudiri Brahmins of Kerala are the most spirited when it comes to Onam celebrations as they attribute its origin to their own community. Nambudiri also called Namputiri is the dominant caste of Kerala. Its members regard themselves as the true repositories of the ancient Vedic religion and of the traditional Hindu code.The Legend of King Mahabali: This is the most popular legend. It is about the mythological King Mahabali who gave Kerala its golden age. Popularity of the King could not be tolerated by Gods and they surreptitiously send him to the nether world. Mahabali's request to visit his people once in a year was granted by God. This annual visit of King Mahabali is celebrated as Onam every year... moreThe Legend of Boat Palliodam: Story goes that once a boat laden with food got stuck in the bend of a river. When a wise man boarding the boat, Bhattathiripad, fed a poor and famished family living on the bank of river, only then the boat could be maneuvered forward. From this legend comes the tradition of feeding a poor family on Onam... moreThe Legend of Vanishing Boy: The legend says that head of the Katoor Mana, a Nambudiri family had a bath in the river Pampa and was waiting for a poor man to feed. He suddenly saw a boy in rags. After having the meal, the boy vanished. He was spotted near the Aranmulla temple but disappeared again. Brahmin concluded the boy was God himself. Since then, Brahmin brought food to Aranmulla temple every year...

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Onam Celebrations High-spirited people of Kerala celebrate Onam with gaiety and fervor. The festival is celebrated for a period of ten days, starting from the first day Atham and continuing till tenth and the biggest day called Thiru Onam. The spectacular festival attracts thousands of tourists from across the country and globe. Immense popularity of the festival is further promoted by the Government of India by celebrating Kerala Tourism Week during the time of Onam. Beginning of the CelebrationsCelebrations of the first day are marked by intricate floral carpets called Pookalam. More flowers of different colours are added to this pookalam on each passing day. Girls take great delight in designing them in the front courtyards of their house. Boys take pleasure in helping them gather flowers. Special prayers are also said on Atham in a local temple. Hectic activities for the carnival begin in the state from this day onwards. Celebrations on Thiru OnamThe biggest and the most happening day in the carnival of Onam is Thiruvonam. Festivities begin as early as 4 am. People clean up their house, take early bath, wear new clothes and perform elaborate prayers to seek divine blessings. A massive and most exquisite pookalam is prepared on this day to welcome the spirit of King Maveli.Highpoint of the day is the enormous lunch called Onasadya. People of Kerala are extremely passionate about this. Even if they cannot easily afford, they will anyhow prepare the meal inclusive of all the 11-13 prescribed dishes. This has lead to the saying in Malayalam, "Kanam Vittu Onam Unnanam" which means, "We should have the Thiruonam lunch even if we have to sell all our properties".

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Activities, Events and RecreationThere are a lot of activities that takes place all over the state on Onam. Pulikali performers paint themselves in the guise of a tiger and enact hunting scenes to entertain people. Kummattikali artists don an attire of plaited grass and big wooden mask. They move from house to house collecting small gifts and amusing children. At Thrissur, caparisoned elephants move out in a procession and present a regal view. While at Cheruthuruthy, Kathakali artists cast a spell on the audience with the magic of their performance. Women perform their graceful traditional clap dance, Kaikotikalli on the day and enthrall the audience. Vallamkali, the popular snake boat race is also organised in several parts of the state to mark the day. Number of sports and games events are also organised on the day. These are collectively called Onakalikal. Some of them are rigorous sports like Talappanthukali, Kutukutu and combats like Kayyankali and Attakalam. Archery is also a part of Onakalikal. Senior members have their share of fun by playing indoor games like cards and chess. There is also a tradition of swinging on Onam. A decorated swing is swung on a high branch and young men and women take the pleasure on it while singing traditional songs.

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Onam Rituals Onam is the biggest and the most important festival of Kerala. Festivities of Onam continue for ten long days. Of all these days, most important ones are the first day, Atham and the last or tenth day, Thiru Onam. Religious and traditional people of Kerala sincerely follow all the customs and traditions set by their ancestors. A number of cultural programmes, dances, songs and feasts mark the festival. Rituals for the Atham DayCelebrations commence from the first day, Atham. The day is regarded holy and auspicious by the people of Kerala. People take early bath on the day and offer prayers in the local temple. Notable feature of this day is that making of Pookkallam or the flower carpet starts from this day. Attha Poo is prepared in the front courtyard by girls of the house to welcome the spirit of King Mahabali in whose honour Onam is celebrated. Boys play a supporting role and help in gathering flowers. In the following days, more flowers are added to Pookalam. As a result Pookalam turns out to be of massive size on the final day. Preparations for the Thiru Onam starts in a big way and everybody gets engaged to mark the festival in their own style. House cleaning starts on a massive scale and everything is made to look neat and tidy. There is also a set breakfast consisting of steamed bananas and fried pappadam (pappad). This remains the same till the day of Thiru Onam. A swing is also slung on a high branch of a tree. It is decorated with flowers and the youngsters take great delight in swinging and singing, that goes simultaneously.

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Rituals for the ninth day-UtradamA day prior to Onam is the ninth day of the festivities and is known as Utradam. On this day tenants and depends of Tarawads (traditional large joint family sharing a common kitchen and consisting of more than hundred people) give presents to Karanavar, the eldest member of the family. These presents are usually the produce of their farms consisting of vegetables, coconut oil, plantains etc. This gift from the villagers to Karanavar on Onam are called 'Onakazhcha'. A sumptuous treat is offered is offered by Karanavar in return for Onakazhcha. Village artisans also offer a specimen of their handicrafts to the Karanavar of Nayar Tarawads. They receive gracious rewards for this courtesy. The Big Day - Thiru Onam Kerala appears in its grandiose best on this day. Cultural extravaganza, music and feasts add colours of merriment and joy to the God's Own Country. There are celebrations all around the state and everybody takes active participation in them; Onam has assumed a secular character and is celebrated by people of all religions and communities. Morning RitualsPeople wake up as early as 4 am on the day of Onam. Day begins with cleaning of the house. In the earlier days, front courtyards were smeared with cow dungs. The custom is still followed in villages, where the houses are not cemented.On the day of Thiruvonam conical figures in various forms are prepared from sticky clay and are painted red. These are decorated with a paste made of rice-flour and water and are placed in the front court yard and other important places in the house. Some of these clay figures are in the shape of cone and others represent figures of Gods. Those in the shape of a cone are called, 'Trikkakara Appan'. The tradition of making clay cones for Trikkara Appan has its roots in mythology, which says that festival originated at Trikkakara, a place 10 km from Cochin. Trikkara is also said to be the capital in the reign of legendary King Maveli.

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Elaborate prayers ceremonies and poojas are also performed on this day. A senior member of the house plays the role of the priest and conducts the rituals. He wakes up early and prepares ata; Ata is prepared from rice flour and molasses for Nivedyam (offerings to God). Lamps are lit up in front of the idols and all members of the house join in for the ceremonies. Priest offers ata, flowers and water in the names of the God. As Onam is also a harvest festival people thank God for the bountiful harvest and pray for the blessings in the coming year. A peculiar custom is followed after this, wherein male members make loud and rhythmic shouts of joys. The tradition is called, 'Aarppu Vilikkukal'. This represents the beginning of Onam. It is now the time for members of the house to dress up in their best attire and offer prayers in the local temple. Most people wear new clothes on the day. There is also a tradition of distributing new clothes on Onam. In Tharawads (traditional large family consisting of more than hundred people), Karanavar, the eldest member of the family, gives new clothes as gifts, called Onapudava, to all family members and servants. Other members of the family exchange gifts amongst each other. The Big Feast - Onasadya After completing the morning rituals, it is time for the family to get ready for the grand meal called Onasadya. The biggest and most prominent place in the house is selected to lay the meal which is traditionally served in a row on a mat laid on the floor. The central place in the row is occupied by the eldest member of the family. In front of him is placed a lighted brass lamp at a distance. Towards the west of the lamp is placed a small plantain leaf on which the food is served. This is an offering made in the name of Lord Ganapathy.

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Thereafter, the meal is served to all present. The elaborate meal consists of 11 to 13 strictly vegetarian dishes and is served on banana leaves. There is a fixed order of serving the meal and a set place to serve the various dishes on the leaf. A lot of preparation and hard work goes in makingof the scrumptious Onasadya. Time for Fun - Dances and GamesAfter the grand meal, it's time for people to indulge in recreational activities and enjoy the festival. Men of strength and vigour go in for rigorous sports while senior and sober members pass time by playing indoor games like chess and cards. There is a set of traditional games to be played on Onam which are collectively called, Onakalikal. It includes ball games, combats, archery and Kutukutu (Kerala version of Kabaddi). Women go in for dancing activities as there are specific dances like Kaikottikali and Thumbi Thullal for the festival of Onam. Women performing the graceful clap dance called Kaikotti kali in their traditional gold bordered mundu and neriyathu presents a splendid sight. Besides, there is also a tradition of playing on a decorated swing hung from a high branch. Onappaattu - Onam Songs, are also sung on the occasion.Celebrations and cultural programmes are held all across the state to mark the festival of Onam in which a large number of people participate. Prominent amongst them are Vallamkali- the Snake Boat Race and entertaining events like Kummatti kali and Pulikali. The other highpoint of Onam is the dazzling display of fire works. The state of Kerala can be seen engulfed in light and spirit of merriment when people burst patassu or fire crackers.

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Customs of Onam Carnival of Onam encompasses a spectrum of fascinating activities. Traditional people of Kerala even go out of their way to celebrate the festival exhaustive of stipulated customs and traditions in full grandiose.Besides the various rituals that are meant to be completed in individual households, there are a lot of customary activities that are organised at the level of society and city all over the state. AthachamayamAthachamyam is a grand procession that marks the beginning of the grand carnival of Onam. It is celebrated with lot of fan-fair on the day of Atham at Thirpunithura and Piravam. The event recalls a royal tradition when Maharajas of erstwhile Kochi State as a custom traveled to the Thripunithura Fort with their entire entourage. Today, even in the absence of the King, the custom retains its regal charm. Highpoints of the event are performances by folk artistes, caparisoned elephants, musical ensembles and dance shows by skilled artsites.

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Snake Boat RaceThe most enthralling and popular of all such customary events is the Vallamkali or the Snake Boat Race. The event is held just a few days before Thiru Onam. Though the event takes place at several places in the city, the most important of them all is the one organised at Alappuzha. A large number of big and decorated boats called chundan vallams participate with hundreds of boatmen. Rowing of boats on the rhythm provided by the songs and music of the drum makes it a captivating event. Aranmula UthrittathiThis is another magnificent boat event organised in connection with Onam. This annual event takes place on the day of Uthrittathi Asterism at Aranmula. This is meant to relive mythology that narrates a story of Lord Krishna crossing the river on that particular day. It is believed that the spirit of the Lord is present on all the boats hence there is no competition of any sort in this event. A large number of people come to watch the joyous event. Some also offer Valla Sady as a vazhipadu (offering) in the temples on this occasion. Procession of Decked ElephantsTrichur, the cultural capital of Kerala, marks the festival in its own beautiful style. Here, a procession of decorated elephants in carried out on the streets. It's a resplendent site to watch the bejeweled elephants walking on the streets in their full majesty and grandeur. Children particularly take great delight in watching the show of their favourite animal. Songs, dance and merry making are a part of this event.Celebrations at CheruthuruthyRenowned for housing the famous, Kerala Kalamandalm, the Kathakali Training Centre, Cheruthuruthy is a small village in the north of Trissur district. Onam celebrations at Cheruthuruthy are marked for the Kathakali performance by the best artists of the state. A large number of people gather in this village to watch the enactment of scenes from epics and folk tales.

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Pulikali/Kaduvakali PerformanceThis is the most entertaining custom of Onam. In this performers take the guise of tigers. They paint their bodies yellow with patterns of black and red. Scenes of tiger hunting goats and tigers being hunted by humans are beautifully depicted through this folk art. Beat for the performance is provided by udukku and thakil. Pulikali performance of Thrissur and Palghat districts are the most famous. KummattikaliThis is another recreational folk dance from the state of Kerala, particularly South Malabar. Clad in plaited grass and a huge colourful wooden mask, Kummattikali performers can be seen entertaining people on the festive occasion of Onam. Children are a huge fan of the performance. Mythological and folk themes are enacted on the beat of onavillu in Kummattikali. Athapoovu CompetitionsAn integral tradition of Onam, Pookalam has come up as an art form. Competitions for decorating Pookalams are organised all over the state. They are extremely popular and witness the participation of large number of Pookalam designers and onlookers. Creativity of the designers in unleashed through such competitions as they come up with innovative designs each year.

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Kaikotti kali / ThiruvathirakaliKaikottikali is an elegant clap dance performed on the occasion of Onam. In this women sing songs praising the legendary King Mahabali and dance around the pookalam. At the centre of this is placed a lit bronze lamp called nilavilakku. It is a captivating sight to watch troupe of female dancers performing in their traditional Kerala attire consisting of gold bordered off-white mundu-neriyathu and decked with a fragrant gajra in their hair. Thumbi ThullalWomen also perform Thumbi Thullal as a custom in Onam. It is a folk dance performed by a group of women who sit in the formation of circle. The lead performer sits inside the circle who initiates the song which is taken up by other singers. Clap dance is also performed by the women dressed in their best clothes and ethnic jewelery. OnakalikalThis is a collective name for all the games played on the occasion of Onam. Traditional games of Onam constitute rigorous sports like Talappanthukali, Kutukutu and combats like Kayyankali and Attakalam. Archery is also a part of Onakalikal. Senior members go in for indoor games like cards and chess. Sports events are organised by various social and cultural organisations all over the state.

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Onam Celebrations High-spirited people of Kerala celebrate Onam with gaiety and fervor. The festival is celebrated for a period of ten days, starting from the first day Atham and continuing till tenth and the biggest day called Thiru Onam. The spectacular festival attracts thousands of tourists from across the country and globe. Immense popularity of the festival is further promoted by the Government of India by celebrating Kerala Tourism Week during the time of Onam. Beginning of the CelebrationsCelebrations of the first day are marked by intricate floral carpets called Pookalam. More flowers of different colours are added to this pookalam on each passing day. Girls take great delight in designing them in the front courtyards of their house. Boys take pleasure in helping them gather flowers. Special prayers are also said on Atham in a local temple. Hectic activities for the carnival begin in the state from this day onwards. Celebrations on Thiru OnamThe biggest and the most happening day in the carnival of Onam is Thiruvonam. Festivities begin as early as 4 am. People clean up their house, take early bath, wear new clothes and perform elaborate prayers to seek divine blessings. A massive and most exquisite pookalam is prepared on this day to welcome the spirit of King Maveli.Highpoint of the day is the enormous lunch called Onasadya. People of Kerala are extremely passionate about this. Even if they cannot easily afford, they will anyhow prepare the meal inclusive of all the 11-13 prescribed dishes. This has lead to the saying in Malayalam, "Kanam Vittu Onam Unnanam" which means, "We should have the Thiruonam lunch even if we have to sell all our properties".

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Activities, Events and RecreationThere are a lot of activities that takes place all over the state on Onam. Pulikali performers paint themselves in the guise of a tiger and enact hunting scenes to entertain people. Kummattikali artists don an attire of plaited grass and big wooden mask. They move from house to house collecting small gifts and amusing children. At Thrissur, caparisoned elephants move out in a procession and present a regal view.While at Cheruthuruthy, Kathakali artists cast a spell on the audience with the magic oftheir performance. Women perform their graceful traditional clap dance, Kaikotikalli on the day and enthrall the audience. Vallamkali, the popular snake boat race is alsoorganised in several parts of the state to mark the day. Number of sports and games events are also organised on the day. These are collectively called Onakalikal. Some of them are rigorous sports like Talappanthukali, Kutukutu and combats like Kayyankali and Attakalam. Archery is also a part of Onakalikal. Senior members have their share of fun by playing indoor games like cards and chess. There is also a tradition of swinging on Onam. A decorated swing is swung on a high branch and young men and women take the pleasure on it while singing traditional songs.

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Ten days of Onam Carnival of Onam continues for ten days in the state of Kerala. In some regions of the state festivities are restricted to four to six days only. However, scholars say, the festivities have toned down a lot in the present time. In earlier days, Onam was celebrated for a month and much more lavishly. Nevertheless, Onam is still celebrated with gaiety and joy on all the ten days of the festivities. There are set rituals for each day and the traditional people of Kerala dutifully follow them. The mood of the people is upbeat all through the carnival and the high spirited people of Kerala are ever ready to indulge in merriment. Of all these days the first day Atham and the tenth day Thiruvonam are the most significant ones. Ninth day Uthradam is also considered to be extremely important from the point of view of celebrations in several parts of Kerala. Atham - Day OneFirst day is an important one and is considered holy and auspicious by the people of Kerala.Chithira - Day TwoOn the second day of Onam, people add to the size of the Pookalam with different flowers.Chodhi - Day ThreeSize of the Attha Poo gets further increased with an addition of design with a different flowers. Visakam - Day FourBrisk activities in the market and households can be witnessed on the day of Visakam..

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Anizham - Day FiveHigh point of the day is the grand boat race event called Vallamkali. Thriketa - Day SixPeople, who may be staying away from their homes, start coming to their homes as the main day approaches.Moolam - Day SevenWith just two days left for the festival now, enthusiasm grips the state of Kerala.Pooradam - Day EightThe day holds significance in Onam festivities. Devotees create clay idols in the shape of small pyramids.Uthradam - Day NineIt is a day prior to Thiruvonam. Some people begin festivities on a large scale on this day.Thiruvonam - Day TenThe biggest day of all, is the tenth day called Thiruvon.

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