Kerala Festival - Onam

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Onam Festival
Time of the Year : September
Duration : Seven to Ten Days




Onam is a time for sports, festivities, and ritual celebrations in Kerala. The Keralites celebrate this festival in memory of the golden era of King Mahabali whose spirit is said to visit the state at the time of Onam. Colorful aquatic festivals are organized along the sacred rive Pampa as part of the celebrations.After three months of heavy rains, the sky becomes a clear blue and the forests a deep green. The brooks and streams come alive, spouting a gentle white foam, the lakes and rivers overflow and lotuses and lilies are in full bloom as if to welcome the spirit of the King. It is time to reap the harvest, to celebrate and to rejoice.

When Onam is Celebrated?
Depending on the positioning of the stars and the moon, the festival is held at the end of August or beginning of September, less than a fortnight after the Malayalam New Year, Chingam begins. This is the biggest festival of the southern Indian state of Kerala. Onam also marks the time when one should visit Kerala. The color, enthusiasm, and celebrations associated with Onam are enough to make you return again.

Onam Celebrations
The celebrations begin within a fortnight of the Malayalam New Year and go on for ten days. The last day called the Thiruonam is the most important. All over the state, rituals along with new clothes, traditional cuisine, dance, and music mark this harvest festival.
In Trichur, a vibrant procession with resplendently caparisoned elephants is taken out while at Cheruthuruthy, people gather to watch Kathakali performers enact scenes from epics and folk tales. Pulikali, also known as Kaduvakali is a common sight during Onam season. Performers painted like tigers in bright yellow, red and black, dance to the beats of instruments like udukku and thakil.
At Aranmulla, where there is a temple dedicated to Lord Krishna and Arjuna, thousands of people gather on the banks of the river Pampa to witness the exciting snake boat races. Nearly 30 chundan vallams or snake boats participate in the festival. Singing traditional boat songs, the oarsmen, in white dhotis and turbans, splash their oars into the water to guide their boats to cruise along like a fish on the move. The golden lace at the head of the boat, the flag and the ornamental umbrella at the center make it a spectacular show of pageantry too.
Each snake boat belongs to a village along the banks of the river Pampa and is worshipped like a deity. Every year the boat is oiled mainly with fish oil, coconut shell, and carbon, mixed with eggs to keep the wood strong and the boat slippery in the water. The village carpenter carries out annual repairs lovingly and people take pride in their boat, which represents their village and is named after it.
The swing is another integral part of Onam, especially in the rural areas. Young men and women, decked in their best, sing Onappaattu, or Onam songs, and rock one another on swings slung from high branches.


A beautiful mix of dance, drama and music, connoisseurs in the art world describe Kathakali as a 'total art form of immense sophistication and power'. Essentially a mine show, Kathakali involves dancing with mudras (hand gestures conveying the text of the lyric) and speacialised steps which follow the song to the accompaniment of chenda, maddalam (country drums), chenkila and elathalam (cymbals).

Dating back to the 17th century, and rooted in Hindu mythology, the dance drama is a harmonious combination of literature (Sahityam), music (sangeetham), painting (chithram), acting (natyam) and dance (nrithyam). All the five forms play a very important role in the recital. With his face painted green and made up with a spot of the scared sandal paste on the brow, eyes lined with mascara and lips toned by cherry and white chin masks, the dancer dons a colorful costume and an impressive headpiece. A traditional pedestal nilavilakku (oil lamp) with 60 wicks on both sides lights the dancing floor. During the performance, the dancers do not speak, but their hand movements, called mudras, and facial expressions, express the sentiments. Interestingly, experts say that a kathakali actor can gain full control of his facial muscles only after a tedious training process. The powerful vocal music and athe sound of drums in the background add to the magic of a kathakali performance.

Drawing heavily from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, the make - up of a kathakali artiste is very complicated, requires several hours to appply, and a major part of it is done by the actor himself. There are four types of make - up and each colour denotes the nature of the character played. For instance, a character with his face painted green and wearing sober and beautiful attire signifies a godly or virtuous character; a red beard depicts aggressive and demonic characters; a black beard depicts aborigines, cavemen and forest dwellers and a white beard represents saints, rishis and other holy men.

Though only 300 years old, a great deal of enrichment and refinement has taken place in the dance form. In the past,, these performances only took place in temple premises or at the house of a local landlord. A minimum of 144 sq ft was needed for the acting area and the level of the stage used to be the same as that of the ground, where people used to sit watching the performance. In the beginning, it is believed that the actor themselves used to sing the text while performing. It is believed that one of the chieftains of Kottarakkara wrote the first kathakali play: it was in the form of a cycle of eight stories based on the Ramayana, each designed to last for six to eight hours.
 
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