colourful mosaic of Kerala festivals and fairs - as
diverse as the land, is an expression of the spirit of
celebration, that is an essential part of the State.
Observed with enthusiasm and gaiety, festivals are like
gems, ornamenting the crown of Kerala tradition and
culture. They are round the year vibrant interludes in
the mundane routine of life.
Every season brings along new festivals, each a true
celebration of the bounties of nature. And that's not
all ! The festivals exhibits an eternal harmony of
spirit. Packed with fun and excitement, festivals are
occasions to clean and decorate houses, to get together
with friends and relatives and to exchange gifts. New
attire, dance, music and ritual, all add to their joyful
rhythm. It is a time for prayer, for pageantry and
processions.....a time to rejoice. The important fairs
and festivals in the state are:
ONAM - THE NATIONAL FESTIVAL OF KERALA
Kerala's most important festival is celebrated in the honour of the ancient Asura King Mahabali. His period is believed the golden age in the history of the country.When Maveli ruled, all were equal, they were leading a life of happiness and nobody had any quarrels between the people. There was neither dishonesty nor deception, nor was there any instance of false utterance, use of counterfeit measures of other kings of unfair practice. Perfect harmony, communal and otherwise, prevailed. In short it was a glorious period. The occasion also heralds the harvest season. The decorating of houses with carpets of flowers, a sumptuous lunch and songs in praise of the Golden reign of Mahabali, mark the ten day long festivities. A major attraction of the Onam celebration are the famous snake boat races along the backwaters at Champakulam, Aramula and Kottayam.
Bus this golden age came of a tragic close when Mahabali was expelled from his kingdom by Vamana, the dwarf incarnation of Vishnu. Thus by the designs of the jealous Gods, the glorious reign of the Asura emperor came to an end. But his grateful subjects, request that their former ruler might be permitted to visit the land once a year, was granted. The time for his annual visit was in the first Malayalam month Chingom (August-September) and this occasion become one of the important festivals throughout the land, reminiscent of the prosperous times of Mahabali.
Whatever be the truth behind this legend, Onam has for last several centuries been a grand national harvest festival in which all sections of the people celebrate with extreme jubilant.
The festival is supposed to begin from the lunar asterism Atham which falls ten days before the asterism Thiruvonam. The preparations for the celebration begin on the Atham day. The Thiruvonam is the most important day of the festival. In the front yard of the house Athapoovu (floral decoration) is made for ten days from Atham to Thiruvonam. The idol of Thrikkakkara Appan made of clay is placed in the middle of the floral decoration, a clear example of the aesthetic sense of the Malayalees who do it with a sense of devotion.
On the Thiruvonam day every one bathes and offers worship in temples early in the morning. Then the gayest new garments are put on. Presents are distributed to the younger members of the family. Then follows the onam feast of delicious food served on plantain leaves. Members of families, staying far away from native places make it a point to visit their ancestral homes to celebrate the festival in the company of the their kith and kin. Keralites celebrate Onam by organising community feast, cultural programmes, etc.
Onam festival which attract thousands of people
including tourists from outside the state. The
state Government itself has taken the initiative
to celebrate Onam season as tourist festival with
the motive of attraction tourists. Various cultural
forms, old and new, are presented in all important
towns in the state during the festival.
For ages, Keralites have cherished a reverential attitude to rivers. It is the apt time for Keralites to hold the Jalotsavam (water-carnivals). Boat race is in a way a display of physical might of the people who forget their differences in partaking of this sport.
The famous snake boat carnival on the Pampa, held annually at Aranmula on the day of Uthrittathi asterism, in connection with the Onam festival is to commemorate the crossing of the river by Lord Krishna on that day. The deity is supposed to be in all the boats that take part in the carnival and all of them are expected to arrive a t their destination simultaneously. There is thus no element of competition in the Aranmula Boat Race as in other regattas held in this district and elsewhere. The race is not conducted to win any trophy or prize. The crew regards the occasion as one for rejoicing and merry-making and cheerfully row up and down the river to the tune of songs. Even though the festival is of Hindu origin and is associated with the Parthasarathy Temple, it is an all-community affair and participants include members of all classes and communities living in and around Aranmula. The festival is now being organised under the auspices of the Palli Oda Seva Sangam, a popular organisation of the boat owners. It constitutes a national festival for the people of Central Travancore and special boats and buses ply to carry the people to witness the event. During the races, the banks of the river on either side, for a distance of about three kilometers, would be thronged with millions. In recent years, the festival attracts spectators from all parts of the world. The Valla Sadya is an important vazhipadu (offering) in the temple on this occasion.
The snake boats at the Aranmula regatta present an enchanting as well as imposing spectacle. They are of extraordinary shape. About 100 ft. long, the end of the boat is curving upwards with the front portion tapering gradually. The rear portion would be towering to a height of about 20 feet. The boats resemble snakes with their hoods raised. Crews of over hundred men vying to win the coveted trophy, attract spectators from all over. The occupants carry banners and ornamental umbrellas of silk and gold. It is doubtful whether there is any other national festival resplendent with such an aura of spiritual devotion, endearing friendship, sportsman spirit, majesty and rapturous delight as the Aranmula boat race.
Similar Snake-boat races are organized at Champakkulam and Paippadu in Kuttanad, the rice bowl of Kerala, during the Onam days.
The Thiruvathira festival falls on the
asterism Thiruvathira in the Malayalam month of Dhanu
(December-January). The origin of the festival is
shrouded in obscurity. The people celebrate this
festival upon age-old tradition and they do it with
great joy and respect for the past. The Ardra Darshan
celebrated in Tamil Nadu corresponds to Thiruvathira of
Kerala. It is considered to be highly auspicious to
worship Shiva and the devotees go to the temple before
sunrise for Darshan. Apart from the worship in the Shiva
temple, there is very little celebration in the houses.
Tradition has it that Thiruvathira festival is
celebrated in commemoration of the death of Kamadeva,
the mythological God of Love. According to another
version, Thiruvathira is the birthday of Lord Shiva.
Thiruvathira is a day of fasting and the women discard
the ordinary rice meal on that day, but only take
preparations of chama (panicum miliaceum) or wheat.
Other items of their food include plantain fruits,
tender coconuts, etc. They also chew betel and redden
their lips. Among Namboodiris, Ambalavasis
(temple-servants) and high class Nairs, there is a
convention that each woman should chew 108 betels on
that day. The first Thiruvathira coming after the
marriage of a girl is known as Puthen Thiruvathira or
Poothiruvathira and it is celebrated on a grand scale.
From prehistoric times, a Malayalee women enjoyed an
enviable position in the society, and she was
practically the mistress of her house. The elevated
position she occupied at home and in the society had
distinguished her from her neighbours and influenced to
a considerable extent the social structure, customs and
religious practices of the people. The culmination of
this phenomenon is clearly visible in setting apart one
of the three great festivals of Kerala. viz.
Thiruvathira, exclusively for womenfolk, for which a
parallel can hardly be found in any section of the
Oonjalattom, (swinging on an oonjal (swing) is an item
of amusement on this occasion. At night, the women keep
vigil for Shiva and perform Thiruvathirakali or
Kaikottikali. They stand in a circle around a lighted
brass lamp, and dance each step to the rhythm of the
songs they sing, clapping their hands. The songs
sometimes consist of Kathakali songs including the works
of Irayimman Thampi.
Among Namboodiris and Ambalavasis (temple servants) and
Nairs who have close association with Namboodiris, there
is a custom called Pathirappoochoodal, meaning wearing
of flowers at midnight. At the midnight of Thiruvathira,
an image of Shiva is placed at the central courtyard and
flowers, plantains and jaggery are offered to the deity.
They then perform Kaikottikali round the deity. Flowers
are taken from the offering and worn by them.
The most colourful temple festival of Kerala. Thrissur Pooram, attracts large masses of devotees and spectators from all parts of the State and outsiders..
Celebrated in Medom (April-May) it consists of procession of richly caparisoned elephants from various neighbouring temples to the Vadakunnatha temple, Thrissur. The most impressive processions are those from the Krishna temple at Thiruvambadi and the Devi temple at Paramekkavu, both situated in the town itself. This festival was introduced by Sakthan Thampuran, the Maharaja of erstwhile Kochi state. The Pooram festival is also well-known for the dazzling display of fireworks. It is celebrated by two rival groups representing the two divisions of Thrissur Paramekkavu and Thiruvambadi with each other in making the display of fireworks grander and more colourful. Each group is allowed to display a maximum of fifteen elephants and all efforts are made by each party to secure the best elephants in South India. The commissioning of elephants and parasols is done in the utmost secrecy by each party to excel the other. Commencing in the early hours of the morning, the celebrations last till the break of dawn, the next day.
Of the rival groups participating in the Pooram, the most important ones are those from Paramekkavu and Thiruvambadi. At the close of the pooram both these groups enter the temple through the western gate and come out through the southern gate to array themselves, face to face, one from the round and other from the Municipal Office road. This spectacle is highly enchanting. Although this grand festival is known as Thrissur Pooram, it is in fact the conclusion of the eight day Utsavam of nine temples.
The procession of the Thiruvambadi Pooram to the grounds of Vadakkunnatha Temple and back is not only important, but also quite enlivening. The marvellous as well as magical effect of the Panchavadyam, a combination of five percussion and wind instruments, is to be felt and enjoyed.