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ONAM

The National Festival of Kerala

There's a famous legend in Kerala about sweet memories of a period of peace and prosperity in the distant past when Mahabali, a celebrated emperor of the Asuras, was supposed to be ruling over this land. This was the golden age in the history of the country. In fact there's a popular folk song about it which tells that when Maveli ruled, all men were equal ( doesn't mention the women), they were leading a life of happiness and nobody had any calamity. There was neither dishonesty nor deception, nor any use of counterfeit measures or other kinds of unfair practice. In other words, nothing dodgy in those days. This golden age came to a tragic close when Mahabali was expelled from his Kingdom by Vamana, the dwarf incarnation of Vishnu. So by the designs of the jealous gods, the glorious reign of the Asura emperor came to an end. But his grateful subjects had one request - that their former ruler might be permitted to visit the land once a year. The time for his annual visit was in the first Malayalam month Chingom (August-September) and this occasion became one of jubilation throughout the land, reminiscent of the prosperous times of Mahabali.True or false, the August celebration of Onam has been a grand national harvest festival for several centuries in which all sections of the people participate on a grand scale. The festival is supposed to begin from the lunar asterism Atham which falls ten days before the asterism Thiruvonam, the most important day of the festival. In the front yard of the house Athapoovu (a floral decoration) is made for ten days from Atham to Thiruvonam and the idol of Thrikkakkara Appan made of clay is placed in the centre. It's well worth a rickshaw ride to see these beautiful decorations day after day. On the Thiruvonam day every one bathes and offers worship in temples early in the morning. Then the brightest new garments are put on, a bit like we would put on our best bib and tucker for Christmas Day in the west. Presents are exchanged. And then the elaborate - and it truly is elaborate -the onam feast of countless Kerala dishes served on plantain leaves begins. Wonderful! No washing up afterwards. Just chuck the banana leaves out to nature. After the feast there will be sports and games, both indoor and outdoor, in which men and women of all ages participate. Mack fight, ball games, card and chess play are the favourites of the men folk whereas women find pleasure in `Oonjalattom, Thumbithullal, Thiruvathirakali, Kaikottikali and talking.Boat races (regatta) also form another item of onam festival which attract thousands of people including tourists from outside the state, particularly to the famous Snake boat race at Alleppey.

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