Festivals - Kerala 

The colorful mosaic of Kerala fairs and festivals is as diverse as the land, is an expression of the spirit of celebration, that is an essential part of the State. Observed with enthusiasm and gaiety, festivals are like gems, ornamenting the crown of Kerala tradition and culture. Round the year the fests keep Kerala life vibrant and interludes in the mundane affairs of life.

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Every season turns up new festivals, each a true celebration of the bounties of nature. The festivals exhibits an eternal harmony of spirit. Packed with fun and excitement, festivals are occasions to clean and decorate houses, to get together with friends and relatives and to exchange gifts.

New attire, dance, music and ritual, all add to their joyful rhythm. It is a time for prayer, for pageantry and processions and time to rejoice. The important fairs and festivals in the state are:

Onam Festival

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.

Thrissur Pooram

Thrissur Pooram is the spectacular festival of light and color, percussion and elephants. It is the most colorful temple festival of Kerala, which attracts large masses of devotees and spectators from all part of the state and Globe.

Celebrated in April-May, it consists of processions of rich caparisoned elephants from various neighboring temples to the Vadakunnatha Temple. This is a two century old festival of procession of caparisoned elephants and enthralling performances in a never ending succession is an 36 hours marathon event of incredible beauty, a feast for the eye and the ear, unfolding between 6 am to 12 noon the other day. Different from the usual temple festival, Thrissur Pooram is participated and conducted by people across all barriers of religion and caste.

The most impressive processions are those from the Krishna Temple at Thiruvambadi and the Devi Temple at Paramekkavu, both situated in the town itself. The hours-long dazzling fire works submerge the Thrissur city of Kerala in an ocean of color. The commissioning of elephants and parasols is done in the utmost secrecy by each party to excel the other. Commencing in the early hours of the morning, the celebrations last till the break of dawn, the next day.

Aranmula Uthrittathi

For ages, Keralites have cherished a reverential attitude to rivers. When the weather becomes delightfully pleasant and the nature exults in her full glory, it is the apt time for Keralites to hold the Jalosavam (water-carnivals). Boat race is in a way a display of physical might of the people who forget their differences in partaking in this sport. In that respect, the boat race is symbolic of the Jalotsavams in Kerala. The most famous is the Aranmula Snake Boat Race conducted on the Uthrttathi day of Chingom (August-September). On Thiruvonam day in Chingom when the national festival of Onam begins in Kerala, Aranmula, a village in Chengannur taluk, is unusually cheerful and gay.

The famous snake boat carnival on the Pampa held annually at Aranmula on the day of Uthrittathiasterism in connection with the Onam festival is to commemorate the crossing of the river by Lord Krishna on that day. The deity is supposed to be in all the boats that take part in the carnival and all of them are expected to arrive at their destination simultaneously. There is thus no element of competition in the Aranmula Boat Race as in other regattas held in this district and elsewhere. The race is not conducted to win any trophy or prize. The crew regard the occasion as one for rejoicing and merry-making and cheerfully row up and down the river to the tune of songs. Even though the festival is of Hindu origin and is associated with the Parthasarathy Temple, it is an all-community affair and participants include members of all classes and communities living in and around Aranmula. The festival is now being organised under the auspices of the Palli Oda Seva Sangham, a popular organisation of the boat owners. It constitutes a national festival for the people of Central Travancore and special boats and buses ply to carry the people to witness the event. During the races, the banks of the river on either side, for a distance of about three kilometers, would be thronged with millions. In recent years, the festival attracts spectators from all parts of the country and even from abroad. The Valla sadya is an important vazhipadu (offering) in the temple on this occasion.

The snake boats at the Arnmula regatta present an enchanting as well as imposing spectacle. They are of extraordinary shape. About 100 ft. long, the end of the boat curving upwards with the front portion tapering gradually. The rear portion would be towering to a height of about 20 feet. The boats resemble snakes with their hoods raises. A 150 - crew including oarsmen, singers and rudder men man each boat which is gaily decorated for the occasion. The occupants carry banners and ornamental umbrellas of silk and gold. It is doubtful whether there is any other national festival resplendent with such an aura of spiritual devotion, endearing friendship, sportsman spirit, majesty and rapturous delight as the Aranmula boat race.

Similar Sanke-boat races are organised at Champakkulam and paippadu in Kuttanad, the rice bowl of Kerala, during the Onam days.

Makaravillakku at Sabarimala

For centuries, Sabarimala in Pathanamthitta has been a major pilgrim centre attracting lakhs of devotees to Kerala from all over India, more so from southern States. The presiding deity is Lord Ayyappa known as Dharma Sastha, a considered symbol of unity between Vaishnavites and Saivites. Darma Sastha is believed to have fulfilled his mission in life and rejoined his Supreme Self, enshrined at Sabarimala.

The temple is tucked away in the mountain ranges of the Western Ghats and can be reached only by foot. Pilgrims have to traipse through the narrow tracks in thick forests infested with wild animals.
Pilgrims to Sabarimala is seasonal (November to January). This marks an important festival of Kerala. Those wishing to perform pilgrimage have to undergo forty-one day's penance consisting of strict celibacy, daily ablutions and daily prayers. Early mornings and evenings in the festival season Kerala villagers will be reverberating with dedication calls of Ayyappa devotees. The festival mood reaches its crescendo on Makara Vilaku day (January 14, the most important day in the festival). The day is in sync with the day of Sankramom (crossing of the sun from Dhakshinayana to the Uttarayana).
Situated close by is a shrine in the name of Vavar, a Muslim, who was thought to be a close aide of Sri Ayyappa. It is a rare experience to see the Hindu devotees worshipping at the shrine of Vavar indicating the communal harmony in Kerala.


Easter is the oldest Christian festival, as old as Christianity itself. The Central tenet of Christianity is not the birth of Jesus, but his resurrection. Easter derived from this paschal mystery and from the events of Good Friday.

The content of Easter was gradually analyzed into historical events and each began to be celebrated on a different day. As a result, Easter grew into a Holy Week and came to have a preparatory season to precede and a festive season to follow. Thus we have four distinct periods in connection with the observance of Easter - 1. Lent, the forty preparatory penitential days. 2. Holy Week including the Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. 3. the Octave of Easter (classical time for Baptism) and 4. the paschal season or Easter time extending over forty more days. On Holy Thursday the Lord's supper is held in the evening. The washing of feet is a remarkable trait, emphasizing the love for one another. At home there will be the rite of the pashcal bread. After supper, the 'cross cake' is brought out and cut into pieces. A piece is broken, dipped into sauce and handed over to each member of the family in due order. Good Friday is a day of grief when churches are empty and dark. Services are held in the afternoon. In most churches one finds a bitter drink prepared from leaves, vinegar, etc for everyone to taste after the service. Holy Saturday is a day of mourning and wailing. A total silence reigns the church from morning to dusk. But by ten at night the church is full to observe the Easter Vigil. In the gloom which envelops the church, new fire is struck from flint and blessed. A big candle is then consecrated and from it is lighted many candled indicating the resurrection. Bells peal, music fills the air and light floods the hall. Hallelujah is the joyous word of Easter wish. Easter Sunday is a quiet day and the celebrations rather spiritual and inward rather than social and showy. There will be grand dinner at homes and visit of relatives.

Thiruvathira festival

The Thiruvathira festival falls on the asterism Thiruvathira in the Malayalam month of Dhanu (December-January). The origin of the festival is shrouded in obscurity. The people celebrate this festival upon age-old tradition and they do it with great joy and respect for the past. The Ardra Darshan celebrated in Tamil Nadu corresponds to Thiruvathira of Kerala. It is considered to be highly auspicious to worship Shiva and the devotees go to the temple before sunrise for Darshan. Apart from the worship in the Shiva temple, there is very little celebration in the houses. Tradition has it that Thiruvathira festival is celebrated in commemoration of the death of Kamadeva, the mythological God of Love. According to another version, Thiruvathira is the birthday of Lord Shiva.

Thiruvathira is a day of fasting and the women discard the ordinary rice meal on that day, but only take preparations of chama (panicum miliaceum) or wheat. Other items of their food include plantain fruits, tender coconuts, etc. They also chew betel and redden their lips. Among Namboodiris, Ambalavasis (temple-servants) and high class Nairs, there is a convention that each woman should chew 108 betels on that day. The first Thiruvathira coming after the marriage of a girl is known as Puthen Thiruvathira or Poothiruvathira and it is celebrated on a grand scale.

From prehistoric times, the Malayalee women enjoyed an enviable position in the society, and she was practically the mistress of her house. The elevated position she occupied at home and in the society had distinguished her from her neighbours and influenced to a considerable extent the social structure, customs and religious practices of the people. The culmination of this phenomenon is clearly visible in setting apart one of the three great festivals of Kerala. viz. Thiruvathira, exclusively for womenfolk, for which a parallel can hardly be found in any section of the Indian Society.

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Oonjalattom, (swinging on an oonjal (swing) is an item of amusement on this occasion. At night, the women keep vigil for Shiva and perform Thiruvathirakali or Kaikottikali. They stand in a circle around a lighted brass lamp, and dance each step to the rhythm of the songs they sing, clapping their hands. The songs sometimes consist of Kathakali songs including the works of Irayimman Thampi.

Among Namboodiris and Ambalavasis (temple servants) and Nairs who have close association with Namboodiris, there is a custom called Pathirappoochoodal, meaning wearing of flowers at midnight. At the midnight of Thiruvathira, an image of Shiva is placed at the central courtyard and flowers, plantains and jaggery are offered to the deity. They then perform Kaikottikali round the deity. Flowers are taken from the offering and worn by them.