Onam or the harvest festival is celebrated mostly by Malyali Hindus. Lasting for ten days, the festival commemorates the Vamana avatar of Lord Vishnu and the subsequent homecoming of the legendary Emperor Mahabali. Falling during the month of August–September, Onam is marked by great celebration and festivities, including Pookalam (intricate flower carpets), snake boat races, Onappottan, Kaazhchakkula, Puli Kali, Kaikottikkali etc. Onam celebrations go on for ten days and that highlights the colorfulness, diversity and richness of the festival.
Even though Onam is clebrated mostly in Kerala but Malyali Hindus in other parts of the world celebrate the festival with the same joy, abundance, gaiety and devotion.
Kerala's harvest festival and the Festival of Rain Flowers fall in the Malayalam month of Chingam and celebrates Mahabali's annual visit from Patala. It is believed that King Mahabali visit every Malayali home and meet his people. The malyalis celebrate Onam in a grand way and impress upon their beloved King that they are happy and prosperous.
As stated earlier, the ten day long celebrations highlight the rich cultural heritage and spirit of Kerala. The most important feature of Onam festival is Onasadya (the grand feast), which is prepared on Thiruonam. Onasadya is a nine-course meal consisting of 11 to 13 important dishes. People sit on a mat to have the meal, which is served on banana leaves.
Vallamkali or the snake boat race is another popular feature of Onam celebration. This boat race is held on the Pamba River - hundreds of boatmen compete in the race amidst loud cheers by spectators.
Another important aspect of Onam celebrations is the tradition of playing games (Onakalikal). Sports like Talappanthukali, Ambeyyal, Kutukutu, Kayyankali and Attakalam are played by men. Women indulge in cultural activities like making Pookalam (flower mats) in the front courtyard of the house. They also perform Kaikotti kali and Thumbi Thullal dances.
It is customary for elder members of the family to present Onam Gifts to children. Exchange of new clothes amongst the family members is one of the most common Onam gifts. In recent years, more and more people have been moving out of their homes in pursuit of better jobs and studies and that has started the trend of sending gifts by courier - through which they send Onam Gifts to their family and friends across the world.