Festivas means cheers, happiness and get-togethers. As a Keralite, an excitement fills my mind at commence of Chingam month - the first month of Malayalam calendar. Celebrations are every where in the form of pookkalams, purchases, boat races, weddings and gatherings. In Kerala, more than 50% marriages take place in the month of Chingam. It's spring season. So, nature also blesses people in its own way by showering flowers and greenery everywhere. Monsoon season has just come to an end filling all backwaters and lakes. Since Onam is a harvest festival, it's a great season of agricultural products too. Why not? On the 10th day of celebrations, we prepare a grand feast to welcome our beloved Emperor Maveli who visits his subjects once in every year, on the Thiruvonam day. Onam celebrations start by preparing flower decorations, Pookkalam (Attam) on the Attam star and it does not end with the tenth star Thiruvonam, the day on which Onam is celebrated. It's extended to two more days. Second Onam is Thiruvonam. But we Keralites, celebrate third Onam Avittom and fourth Onam Chathayam and hence this harvest festival can be called a celebration of 12 days.


My journey starts from cultural capital of Kerala

Our Onam preparations start in the dark month of Karkadakam itself and I was eagerly waiting for this occasion so that I could meet my family and celebrate our state festival together. After all, Onam is a festival of get-togethers too, where old parents eagerly wait for the arrival of their kids and grand kids even if they are far away in any other part of the world. Also, they collect many traditional items for them. It may even include mangoes or jack fruits from their courtyard which their kids won't get if they are far from their home town. My home town is the capital city and as, I reside now in the cultural capital, it always takes 7-8 hours and a lot of preparation for my journey. I really enjoy this journey very much, since this celebration is always accompanied by small rain showers and spring season and all people around are in a jolly mood. Train journeys are also amazing since, while the train passes through lonely paths, we can see greenery everywhere and water filled streams, particularly if train passes through Alappuzha route - the land of boat races.

Due to high work pressure, my hubby couldn't take even a single day leave. So, we were able to leave the cultural capital Thrissur, just one day before the auspicious day. This year, surprisingly two stars, pooradam and utradam fall on the same day and hence only 9 days left  to make the floral decoration for Maveli. Kids really love 'Attam'. When I was a kid, I along with my cousins used to go to neighbours' homes in groups, to collect flowers and we together made Attam for 10 days, according to our creativity and imaginations. There was so much excitement among us and we used to enjoy each and every moment, playing with different types and colours of flowers. But now, time has moved very much forward and seasons are changing rapidly fast. Now it's the time of even instant sadyas and nothing given to new generations. Yet, I decided to make a simple attam for my 5 year kid seeing her excitement and interest. It was not a great one. Yet attam made with marigold, bachelor's button and thulsi leaves was cheering very fine in our courtyard.

In the evening we made a small purchase for our parents and kids and while shopping, we could see the whole Thrissur town in enjoyment. Celebrations had already begun and I was really surprised seeing the flower market of Vadakkumnatha Temple maidan. Onam celebrations and attam making competitions everywhere, particularly in clubs, schools and colleges. Also, it's the marriage season. That's the reason for high demand of flowers, especially marigold, jasmine, bachelor's button, chrysanthemum and nerium. The whole town was in traffic block. Yet, we three managed to get our night train. When the dawn of first Onam was born, we reached Thampanoor railway station and within one hour we reached home. First Onam is famous for its Onam purchases and it's known as Uthradapaachil as people make their last list of Onam purchases this day.

After I reached the capital city

According to customs, of four Onams, one is celebrated at wife's home along with her parents. So, this first Onam, we celebrated with my parents. When I reached the main junction of my village, I could hear a loud speaker playing songs and a lot of boys gathered around a closed tent. It was for the first time and I felt so happy. What they were doing, I will tell later when I describe Thiruvonam day because that closed tent is a suspense till next day dawn. As soon as we reached home, we gave my parents, 'Onakodi'. Kodi means new dress. We had our special lunch together. My brother and family were also present. That's why I told, it's something like a get-together and in the evening, we decided to go to the city to see Onam celebrations.

How the city looked in Uthradapaachil night

If someone wants to see real Onam celebrations, he should visit the capital city. As all the ministers and MLAs reside in the capital city, they give much importance to Onam celebrations. Almost all buildings of main roads, particularly MG road, including Secretariat, Kerala Legislative Assembly and Corporation building are completely decorated with multi-colour serial lights and of course, no doubt, the city appears like a bride at night, decorated with ornaments and diamonds. It lasts till the last day of Onam celebrations, almost 10-15 days.

But the main attraction is Kanakakunnu Palace and associated Museum, which were once held by great Maharajas of Travancore known as 'Thiruvithankoor Maharajav' in Malayalam. Now, those buildings under the direct governance of Government, is a vast display of cultural heritage of Kerala. Around the year, events are organized to promote Kerala tourism. Yet Onam celebrations at Kanakakunnu is so special. These two buildings, along with a zoo hold acres of land and lovely gardens filled with trees of many rare varieties, some of them planted even a century back. Also, grass land of Kanakakunnu palace appears like a green blanket attracting a lot of tourists everyday. No doubt, it's the most peaceful and pollution free place of the capital city and its doors are open the whole day till midnight every day. During Onam celebrations, each and every tree will be decorated by serial lights and there will be different stage shows arranged in different parts of the garden and entry is absolutely free.

Each year, variety programs will be conducted in Chandrasekhar Stadium and Kanakakunnu palace and many other parts of the city. This include many dance programs and live stage shows of many artists related to film and non-film field. Great importance is given to Kerala art forms like Kathakali, Thiruvathirakali, Mohiniattam etc as this occasion is used to promote tourism a lot. I read from newspaper somewhere that live concerts are arranged in 18 stages in capital city itself. So, it's nothing less than a grand season. But I was most impatient to see Kanakakunnu Palace. I just imagined how it looks like this time - will it be as usual or something different. When I stepped inside the palace garden, I was so excited to see something most related to Onam, for the first time - something that we miss a lot nowadays. Let it be another suspense to tell you later. First let me tell you my journey till we reached the palace.

When we stepped into the city , we saw dark clouds everywhere. This Onam, a little bit change in season's timing - we were having heavy rains that week. So, we doubted if our whole plan will be soaked in rain. Yet, we traveled through the city making small purchases. This time, neither East fort nor Gandhi Park was decorated much. May be due to security reasons, I think so, as Sree Padmanabha swamy temple is just a few steps away. Yet, we could see many buildings bathed in lights, particularly jewellery shops. But what surprised me most is, around 7.30 pm, East fort was not so crowdy as expected. I think, most people were at different stalls of Puthirikandam maidan, giving finishing touch to Uthradapaachil.


We enjoyed the beauty of city and drove through MG road leading to PMG Junction and the Palace. Though we could see roads busy with vehicles, we could travel without many traffic blocks. When our car passed Secretariat, we were really enjoying its beauty and took some nice snaps too. It's one of the most beautifully decorated buildings of Onam season. All its trees and lovely gardens were bearing beautiful 'light' fruits of different colours.Then we passed MLA Quarters, Kerala University, Chandrasekhar Stadium and Legislative Assembly. Surprisingly, Legislative Assembly was only partially decorated. Yet it looked nice in impressive colours and flash lights super imposed on trees. Very soon we reached PMG Junction and couldn't find any space for parking. We again traveled more than half an hour, moiving around the whole palace and Museum to get a parking space for our car, as no vehicle was allowed in the roads leading to palace. At this time, car with number 1 passed by in super fast speed and we got a quick glance of our honourable Chief minister while our car was waiting at a traffic signal. We could see big screens at each and every major junctions, showing live telecast of programs in Chandrasekhar stadium and palace auditorium.


When we found a parking space, it was already 9 pm and we didn't waste more time wandering here and there. Just opposite the palace and Museum are Corporation office (Thiruvananthapuram Nagara Sabha) and Kerala Water Authority main office. Beautifully decorated both buildings and the associated Nehru Park for children were really worth to watch. Finally, we reached the entry point of palace. There was a big mela also, for kids - giant wheel, magic, well-of-death etc on one side of the palace. After spending a little time there, we reached the real Onam fest. Now let me break the suspense! For the first time, as a part of Onam celebrations, I saw hundreds of swings tied in each and every branch of garden trees. It really brought many childhood memories back, something which our kids miss a lot these days!

Real stars were swings of low branches


Instead of putting lights on each and every branches of garden trees as usual, this time, they tied swings wherever they could, using ropes and woods. Some trees, which had 3-4 lower branches tied with many swings. What a fantastic scene it was! Beyond every explanation! In the dim lights, not only kids, but grand parents were also enjoying this amazing journey in the space in their own way. My daughter was very much excited seeing numerous swings tied every where in each and every corner of palace garden. Most surprising, people have to wait a little time to get a free swing. That showed the success of this program and how people enjoyed it. I think, it's for the first time, they got an innovative idea to bring back the pure scent of old Onam days back. In the dim lights, it was really beautiful to see swings tied in each and every branches and we just enjoyed the beauty, by walking over the green grass blanket with ice creams in hand. I am sure, my daughter loved it most, as she was swinging in each and every free swing and was not ready to leave the place. We took some nice snaps and since it was already 10.30 pm, we didn't spend time to watch stage shows or do we enter food stalls to taste something different, but traditional Kerala al dishes. It was so lucky that we had just got into our car before rain started and we traveled the whole city in that lovely rain. Though we reached home late, that journey brought back many childhood memories live, giving a good refreshment.

It's the time for real celebrations

Next day morning, it was Thiruvonam. In northern districts of Kerala, special offerings were done to Onathappan, who is believed to be both Lord Vishnu and Emperor Mahabali in different places. Southern Kerala is not having such practices of making four faced Onathappan from mud or clay and worshipped in early morning of Thiruvonam, just before preparation of dishes. For Kerala sadya, we have to prepare a lot of variety dishes and it's really a great moment of happiness when all members of the family, both males and females, work together for making the feast. When we prepare something with great effort, it tastes best too. That's why, even in the era of instant Kerala sadyas, we people are opting for such traditional methods to prepare more than 15 items for our lunch meal. Also, according to our beliefs, Maveli Thampuran will be happy if we prepare meal with our own hands, in our homes which brings a feeling of togetherness too. While works were going on in the kitchen, kids of home were preparing attam in the courtyard. My husband assisted them giving valuable suggestions.

It's a pure vegetarian meal and this time, we had a few guests too. It's really a great moment, when all members of the family gather together and have their feast together. I still remember one or two Onams of my childhood days, when we used to put mat on the floor and have sadya, particularly when more than 10-15 members present. According to beliefs we should sit on the floor and serve food on banana leaf, which is nowhere seen nowadays. Only memories left. Also, in early days, people were not rich and even in their poverty, they used to celebrate a day an year with everything they can, and that day was Onam. Though that significance of celebrating Onam in poverty doesn't exist now, people have not forgotten completely, the importance of this festival, that's very very important.

Now, let me tell you how a sadya is served. It also follows a strict rule in southern parts of Kerala. In each district, the serving rule differs slightly and let me tell you how sadya is served in Thiruvananthapuram style. First put banana leaf with its pointed edge in the left hand side of the person, to whom the food is served. Only tip portion of the leaf is taken and it's known as 'thumbila' in Malayalam. Then side dishes are served in an order. We can put curd chillies and salt, but it's just optional. Then banana chips and upperi(made of banana and jaggery) is served in the left tip of banana leaf. Then 3 pickles in the order- ginger, lemon and mango. Mango pickle will be added with curd. So, next 2-3 items should be curd added side dishes. This rule is strictly followed in every Kerala sadya, from pickles to curd and finally to non-curd items. Kichadi, pachadi and raita are normal curd items. Then thoran, avial and koottu curry are served in the order one after one. The number of side dishes should compulsory be an odd number. Most sadyas contain 7, 9, 11 or more side dishes. This time, we prepared 9 side dishes. Then banana and pappad are placed on the left side of the banana leaf. Banana may be any one of the varieties, palayankodan, raskadali or matti. Other banana items are not used. Also, number of bananas depend on the number of jaggery payasams served. Then boiled rice along with daal curry (parippu) is served. Normally, the grey chamba rice, which contains the husk is served for sadyas. Second curry served is sambar. Then payasams are served in the order ada, parippu(daal) and vermicilli. Ada and parippu are jaggery payasams served with banana while vermicilli is a kheer served with boli or boondi. You can increase the number of payasams according to your wish. Then again rice is served 3 times with 3 curries in the order pulissery, rasam and buttermilk. When pulissery is served olan is also served as side dish, the special dish of northern Kerala sadyas. We should complete our meal with buttermilk to neutralize everything we have just eaten. Very often, a fresh lemon is also served, which we should prepare lemon juice later and have it. This time, we made 9 side dishes, 5 curries and 2 payasam. So, it was nothing less than a royal feast.

After the sadya 


Our Onam afternoon is always dedicated to a short walk to cover almost all attams around. It's said, Kovalam belt prepares the best attams of the state, to attract tourists. Even attam competitions of different art clubs are arranged. To make it grand, on the 9th day dawn break itself, they cover the whole shed and prepare attam. It will be opened in the early Thiruvonam morning only. Most of the grand attams need 10-20 people's 24 hours continuous work giving it each and every thing needed to attain the perfection at its best. Only flowers and leaves are used. Beautiful sculptures are made of clay, dried and decorated nicely with flowers. That's why they are taking these amount of time. Most common sculptures include Krishna, Vishnu, Ganapathi, Siva, elephants etc. I saw many grand attams in Kovalam-Vizhinjam-Chowvara belt, of which three of them attracted me most. Each of them were made in more than 2 cent plot, with beautiful designs with some lovely and uniform patterns. In my childhood, I used to make attam in salt mixed with different colours if flowers are not sufficient enough and many times I have seen them washed in rain. It's an instant attam which is not at all advisable. For beautiful attams, we helped them by giving small funds as we know, it requires a lot of money and efforts to keep Maveli in our souls alive. Several games are also arranged like Kaduvakali, Thumpithullal, Vadam vali, Sundarikku pottukuthal, sack race, kalam adi etc. It's the cheer of millions of hearts that keep the story of Maveli and its celebrations till alive without losing its significance much. At last, we reached the junction of my home. Hoping you remember the suspense behind the covered tent. It's for the first time, an Onam celebration and attam decoration announced at my place and it was conducted successfully also, with many games included. It was not a great attam like those seen in the Kovalam belt. Yet, this attam drew maximum viewers. All were new faces. Nursery and primary school boys before my marriage are now grown-up teenagers who have taken initiative to celebrate it for the first time. It was something, I have been missing for all the past Onams, celebration and attam preparation at my bus stop junction. In the evening, we returned home.

It's time to return back

In the capital city, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy inaugurated Onam celebrations on 27th August and it lasted for 1 week completing with the colourful procession from Kowdiar Palace to East fort. It covers almost all major junctions of the city and VIPs will be watching them sitting on special seats arranged on either side of road. I left Thiruvananthapuram just one day before the closing ceremony. I also missed famous Kaduva kali(tiger play) of Thrissur town this time. Yet, hoping, next year I will be able to see at least one of these ceremonies. I have put my maximum efforts to give you an Onam feast. Hoping you enjoyed it!!  

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