Kerala has a unique culture in that it is a blend of Dravidian and Aryan-Indian cultures. It harmoniously combines different religions, communities, and regional influences. For instance, while Dravidian culture is predominant in the language and customs of the South Travancore people, Kasargod has a distinct Mangalorean influence. Irrespective of their region or religion, Malayalees are very particular about representing their culture and heritage. In fact, a lot of festivals are celebrated by everyone with fanfare as they create a sense of bonding and belonging among people. Here, we have listed a few famous festivals that best represent the state and its unique heritage.
This is one of the most famous festivals in Kerala and is celebrated by everyone, irrespective of religion. Onam is celebrated in the Hindu month of Chingam, the first month according to the Malayalam calendar. The celebrations last for ten days, beginning with the Atham nakshatra and ending with Thiruvonam, the most important day of the festival.
Onam is celebrated to welcome King Mahabali, a demon king who loves his people and comes to visit them yearly from the netherworld. It is believed that when Lord Vishnu visited Mahabali in the form of a Vamana, the latter offered his head in a request for that much space as could be measured by three footsteps of the Vamana.
The first day of Atham marks the beginning of Onam, where people decorate their homes with floral decorations called athapoo. If you are in Kochi during this time of the year, don’t miss the Tripunithura Athachamayam Festival held in Tripunithura. Celebrations include a street parade of dance, music, and decorated elephants.
The second day of Chithira includes placing earthen mounds in the courtyard representing King Mahabali. The third day of Chodi involves Onam shopping, with men buying dhotis or mundus and women buying their kasavu sarees. Day 5 is vishakam and the beginning of preparations for the Onam sadhya. Anizham is Day 5 and the time for Vallamkazhi, or boat races across Kerala. The most famous ones include the Nehru Trophy on the Punnamada Lake and the Aranmula Boat Race, held on Day 9 of Onam. Day 6 is Thriketa, the perfect time for people to visit their ancestral homes. Day 7 is Moolam and famous for local dance performances like Puli Kali, held across the state. Day 8 is Pooradam and the time for people to visit their homes for Onam. Day 9 is Uthradam and the ideal time to buy vegetables for Day 10, Thiruvonam.
If you are in Kerala around this time, you must visit Thiruvananthapuram, Palakkad, or Ernakulam, as the festival is celebrated lavishly in these places. And don’t miss the Onam sadhya, a grand vegetarian luncheon that could include as many as 30 side dishes. Thiruvathirakali is a popular dance where women stand around a lamp to move graciously in circles.
Vishu is celebrated around April or May, i.e., the first day of the Hindu month of Medam. The festival symbolizes the beginning of the spring season and supposedly the time when the sun moves into Aries. Farmers begin plowing and other agricultural activities on Vishu.
Vishu is celebrated by people beginning their day with Vishu kani – a plate full of auspicious things like vegetables, fruits, gold, holy book, and even gold. Children are brought blindfolded and must begin their day by viewing this arrangement first thing in the morning, as it brings good luck and prosperity throughout the year. This important festival in Kerala is celebrated with aplomb at Guruvayoor and Sabarimala.
3. Thrissur Pooram
The Pooram festival is celebrated on the Pooram star in the Hindu month of Medam. The Thrissur Pooram is the most famous of all festivals and is held on the grounds of the Vadakunnathan Temple. Every year, two groups representing Paramekkavu and Thiruvamabi come to the Vadakunnathan Temple with their troupe of caparisoned elephants, traditional orchestra artists, and parasols to compete with each other. The seven-day-long festival culminates with fireworks and the ceremonial departure, called upacharam cholli piriyal. We suggest you contact our travel agency in Thrissur to learn more about booking vacation packages around this important festival in Kerala. Besides the panchavadhyam, you must witness the elephant parade and folk dances.
It is believed that Christianity came to India as early as 52 CE when St Thomas the Apostle visited Kerala. In fact, many Christian traditions in Kerala originate from Eastern Orthodox traditions and in Syriac language, believed to be a form of Aramaic, a dialect spoken by Jesus and Thomas the Apostle. Christianity is now a major religion in the state, with Christians making up 18% of the population. If you are in Kerala during Christmas, you mustn’t miss the festivities in Kochi, where the entire city is lit up with fairy lights. The state’s capital city Thiruvananthapuram is equally well-lit and is the best place for Christmas shopping.
5. Attukal Pongala
The Attukal Pongala festival is perhaps the largest congregation of women who gather to prepare a sweet payasam as an offering to Goddess Bhagavathi. This festival is unique because only women can perform the pongala as thanks for answering their prayers or to pray to her, seeking her grace. It is believed that the Goddess revealed herself to a devotee from a noble family, requesting him to raise a temple for her at the very spot where the temple now stands.
Visit us if you are looking for a travel agency to help you plan vacations around the time these famous festivals of Kerala are held.