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. Onam is one of the most significant harvest festivals of Kerala and is an attraction for thousands of people outside and within the state. All the activities during this season are centered on worshipping, music, dance, sports, boat races and good food. The people in Kerala arrange for this festival by cleaning up their houses and decorating them. On the occasion of Onam, everybody in the family wears new clothes. Onam is celebrated not only by Hindus but also by Christians and Muslims. It is one such festival that unites all the people regardless of race and religion.Traditional oil lamps are lit in the courtyard and women dressed in traditional Kerala sarees dance around the lamp, performing a dance called Thiruvathirakali. The main event on Onam day is a grand feast at lunchtime. Called sadya, the feast consists of a series of dishes served one after the other, including rice, vegetable curries, pickles and several varieties of payasam or sweet dish. Many cultural events are also held on the occasion of Onam. Onam is a time for sports and festivities and in Kerala where one third of the area is low lying, covered with canals, lakes and backwaters; the people take to their boats and country crafts to celebrate. Colourful aquatic festivals are organized along the sacred rive Pamba.It is observed with conventional fervidness by arranging colorful blossoms for pookalam, visiting temples, gifting new clothes (Onakkodi) to everybody.The observance of Onam as a national festival was initiated by the Government in Kerala in 1961. The festival of Onam commences formally on the day of Atham asterism which falls ten days ahead of the Thiruvonam asterism.

In the front courtyard of the house a stunningly beautiful pattern is created by multi- colored flowers known as Athapoovu or pookalam for ten days from Atham to Thiruvonam and the clay-made image of Thrikkakkara Appan is placed in the centre. A lamp is sometimes added to beautify this floral adornment.The main attraction of Onam festival is the boat races that take place. Thousands of people gather around the lakes and cheer endlessly for their favorite boat. All said and done, it is the time to spread cheer.The Vallamkali (boat race) is unmissable and best seen at Aranmulai and Kottayam. About 100 oarsmen row huge and graceful boats under scarlet umbrellas to the rhythm of drums and cymbals. In the evening, girls perform the Kaikottikkali dance around traditional brass lamps. There is also a fantastic celebration called Pulikali which takes place in Thrissur at the Swaraj Ground, where groups of locals dress like tigers to perform the pulikali (tiger dance).The onam festival is celebrated in the Malayalam month of "Chingam", which falls roughly between the end of August and beginning of September.The distinctive characteristic of the Onam remains in the fact that this event is celebrated throughout the state. Each city and town has its own glory of magic and the presentation itinerary.

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Onam is celebrated to welcome King Mahabali, a legendary ruler of Kerala, who was renowned for the justice and goodness of his rule. According to legend, people in his kingdom lived in prosperity and harmony and loved their King so much that even the God's grew jealous of him, for King Mahabali was of the race of Demons. King Mahabali had conquered all the land and sea and the heavens, making the Gods even more disturbed. They requested Vishnu, the Preserver, in the Hindu trinity to act. Vishnu descended on earth in the form of a dwarf Brahmin, called Vamana. He went to King Mahabali's palace and found the good King distributing alms. When Mahabali asked Vamana what alms he sought, Vamana replied he would like as much ground as he could cover with three footsteps. Mahabali looked at the tiny feet of the dwarf and agreed to his wish. Lord Vishnu covered the land and seas with one step and the heavens with the second. Mahabali recognized the presence of the Lord and offered his head as the ground for Vishnu/Vamana's third step. Mahabali was thus subjugated and sent to the underworld. However because he was a good and just king who loved his subjects, he could return once a year to check on the welfare of his people. Thus Onam is celebrated every year to welcome Mahabali, the good Demon King of Kerala.

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