Festivals & Events

The harvest festival of Kerala that falls in the Malayalam month of Chingam (Aug-Sep) has a very interesting legend to it. King Mahabali, the ruler of Kerala was a very benevolent person. He distributed wealth among his subjects evenly and was known for granting any request made to him. The people soon began worshipping him instead of the Gods. The envious Gods plotted a scheme to get rid of him. Lord Vishnu disguised as Vamana went to King Mahabali asking for the extent of land covered by three footsteps of his. With one step Vamana covered the whole of the earth; with the other he covered the whole of heaven; since there was no place left to be covered, King Mahabali offered his head as the third step for Vamana’s feet and was pushed down into the earth. Mahabali’s last wish was that he be allowed to visit his subjects every year during Chingam, which was granted by Lord Vishnu. The day Mahabali is believed to visit his people is known as Onam or Thiruvonam. People celebrate this day by making floral carpets called Pookkalam, wearing new clothes and preparing a grand feast. This is done to let the King know that his subjects are doing as well as they were during his reign. What makes this festival unique is that it is celebrated by people of all religions in Kerala though it is related to the Hindu Gods. A lot of cultural programmes are held during Onam. Some of them are:

  • Nehru Boat Race and Aranmula Trophy Boat Race
    The Nehru trophy boat race held on the second Saturday of every August on the Punnamada Lake, Alleppey, is a highlight of the festival of Onam. Long canoes that resemble snakes are rowed by hundreds of men and thousands assemble to watch the event. The trophy is named after the ex- Prime Minister of India, Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru who was so impressed after watching the race that he donated a rolling trophy for the event.

    The Aranmula Uttathrathi Boat Race is held during Onam (Aug-Sep) in Aranmula, Trivandrum which is by the banks of the river Pampa. The boats participating in the race are rowed by oarsmen who sing Vanchipattu’s (Boat Songs) and row with extraordinary energy to be the first to reach the finishing line.
  • Pulikkali
    Pulikkali meaning Tiger Dance (Puli in Malayalam means tiger and Kali means play/game/dance) is held with great pomp and show in the district of Thrissur on the third day after Thiruvonam. People from various clubs in the city participate in the Pulikkali, where they come dressed as tigers with their bodies painted in yellow and black. They wear the mask of a tiger and usually paint a tiger’s head on their tummy. The tigers go round the city in a procession, dancing to the beats of Chendas (Drums) and other musical instruments.

Thrissur Pooram
Celebrated every year during the Malayalam month of Medam (mid-April to mid-May), the Thrissur Pooram is the biggest and most popular temple festival in Kerala. Held in the Vadakkumnathan Temple grounds, the festival is attended by people from all parts of the globe. Panchavaadyam, the playing of several drums and trumpets in unison; Kudamattom, a display of colourful parasols and the thirty caparisoned elephants that stand lined up in front of the temple is a sight so spectacular that you have to see it to believe it. The 36 hour festival also includes the Vedikettu which is a spectacular show of fireworks.

Kodungalloor Bharani
Kondungalloor Bharani marks the birth of Goddess Bhagavathi. Held in the month of Meenam (March-April), the festival attracts thousands of pilgrims. The festival sees the largest congregation of Velichappadus or Oracles who come to the temple and dance to the beats of temple songs. The venue, Kodungalloor Bhagavathy Temple is about 30 km away from the Cochin International Airport.

The festival which marks the beginning of the ten day Onam festival in Kerala, Athachamayam is held in Tripunithura, Ernakulam. Conducted on the Atham star of the Malayalam month of Chingam (Aug-Sep), which is the first day of Onam, Athachamayam is closely related to the Cochin royal family. It is believed that the king used to take a tour of Tripunithura with a large procession following him, performing various art forms, on the first day of Onam. The tradition of performing this ritual continues to this day just that it is not led by the king. Thiruvathirakkali, Mohiniyattom, Bharathanatyam, Kathakali and Panchavadyam can be seen in the procession which also has tableaus depicting the way of life in Kerala.

Celebrated on the first day of the Malayalam month of Medam (usally April 14th), Vishu is considered as the Malayalam New Year. Being the New Year day it is thought of as a very auspicious day. Most of the states in India have this festival but they are known by different names and fall in different months. In Punjab it is known as Baisakhi, in Assam it is Bihu and in Maharashtra it is Gudi Paawda. People celebrate this day by bursting crackers and other colourful fireworks.