ONAM The National Festival of Kerala
Onam is the harvest festival of Kerala and celebrated for 10 days during Aug/Sep every year in which all sections of the people participate.
Members of families, staying far away from native places usually visit their ancestral homes to celebrate the Onam festival. The onam feast of delicious food served on plantain leaves. After the feast there will be sports, games and cultural programmes
The new year in Kerala is celebrated on the first day of the Malayalam month Medam – the day sun crosses the equator. Vishu is considered to be an auspicious day for new beginnings. Vishu Kani - the auspicious object one first sees after waking up on the vishu day. Vishu Kaineettam – Handsel, usually a silver coin, given to all the younger members and dependents of the family by the elders.
The Mahasivarathri is essentially a religious festival unlike the Onam and Thiruvathira. The word means 'the great night of Siva'. According to the Sivapurana, it falls on the Krishna Chathurdasi day which is on the fourteenth day during the waning of the moon in the month of Megha (February-March). The festival is said to commemorate the day on which Siva protected the world from a total annihilation either by drinking the deadly Kaalakoodum poison which was help up in his neck, or by effecting a healthy compromise between Brahma, the Creator and Vishnu, the Protector. In many respects the Sivarathri festival in Kerala can be considered a miniature Ardha Kumbha Mela held at Thriveni, the confluence of the holy rivers Ganga-Yamuna, and the invisible Saraswathi
The Navarathri dedicated to Devi, the 'Diving Mother' is celebrated all over India. In some places it is called Dussehra, in some other places 'Kalipuja' or 'Saraswathi Puja' and in still others, 'Ayudha Puja'. During Navarthri days the Divine Mother is worshipped in one or the other of her different manifestations namely Durga, Saraswathi, Kali, etc. The puja in connection with Navarathri is known as Bhuvaneswari Puja which means, the worship of 'Universal Mother'.
The festival is celebrated during the first nine days in the bright half of Aswina namely September-October. The last three days of the Navarathri are called Durgashtami, Mahanavami and Vijayadasami, and they are considered more sacred that the other days of Devi worship. It is believed that by offering prayers to Devi during these three days one can attain the full benefits of observing the Navarathri rites for the whole period.
Deepavali, the festival of lights, is held throughout India. It falls on the preceding day of the New Moon (October-November). It is celebrated in commemoration of the destruction of the demon called Narakasura by Lord Krishna. As Lord Krishna killed Narakasura on the Chaturdasi day (the fourteenth lunar day) it is also known as Narakachaturdasi. Before sunrise, all in the house have their oil bath and put on new cloths. Sweets are then served followed by bursting of crackers.
The Thiruvathira festival falls on the asterism Thiruvathira in the Malayalam month of Dhanu (Decembe-January). The people celebrate this festival upon age-old tradition and they do it with great joy and respect for the past. It is considered to be highly auspicious to worship Siva and the devotees go to the temple before sunrise for darshan. Apart from the worship in the Siva temple, there is very little celebration in the houses. Even though the Thiruvathira is celebrated by most of the Hindu communities it is essentially a Nair women's festival. Defying the biting cold of December, women get up early morning and take bath on seven days commencing from the asteriasm Aswathi. While taking bath they sing certain songs mostly relating to the God of love, accompanied buy a rhythmic sound produced by splashing water with their fists. In conclusion they stand in a circle in the water hand in hand singing songs. Thiruvathira is a day of fasting and the women discard the ordinary rice meal on that day. They also chew betel and redden their lips.
The most colourful temple festival of Kerala, Thrissur Pooram, attracts large masses of devotees and spectators from all parts of the world. Celebrated in April-May consists of processions of 30 richly caparisoned elephants from various neighboring temples to the Vadakunnatha temple, Thrissur. The most impressive processions are those from the Krishna temple at Thiruvambadi and the Devi temple at Paramekkavu. Each group is allowed to display a maximum of fifteen elephants and all efforts are made by each party to secure the best elephants in South India and the most artistic parasols is done in the utmost secrecy by each party to excel the other. This festival was introduced by Sakthan Thampuran, the Maharaja of erstwhile Kochi state. The Pooram festival is also well-known for the magnificent display of fireworks. Commencing in the early hours of the morning, the celebrations last till the break of dawn, the next day.
ARATTUPUZHA POORAM (14 kms from Thrissur)
This 7 days festival is the oldest and the most spectacular of Poorams in Kerala. It is believed that on this day 101 gods and goddesses of the neighbouring village visit Sree Ayyappan, the presiding deity of the temple. 61 elephants feature in the procession held on the 6th day, which is considered most auspicious for worship. The festival concludes with the arattu (holy bath of the idol of the deity)
BOAT RACES IN KERALA
Boat races in kerala are centuries old customs and traditions. Powered by 125 oarsmen, fuelled by the boat-songs of 25 others, cheered on by hundreds of thousands of ecstatic spectators is one of the largest team sport in the world.
1.CHAMPAKULAM MOOLAM BOAT RACE, Harippad, Alappuzha
This is one of the oldest and most popular boat races of Kerala. The race is held on the Champakulam Lake on the Moolam day of the Malayalam month Midhunam. Dates: 10th July 2006, 30th June 2007, 19th June 2008, 6th July 2009
2.NEHRU TROPHY BOAT RACE
This is the greatest event on the backwaters of Kerala, which take place at Punnamada Kayal at Alappuzha on 2nd Saturday of every year. Magnificent snakeboats compete for the prized trophy, which was instituted by Jawaharlal Nehru, the 1st prime minister of India. Different types of boats take part in this competition.
Dates: 12th Aug 2006, 11th Aug 2007, 09th Aug 2008, 08th Aug 2009.
3.PAYIPPAD JALOTSAVAM, Alapuzha
The three days annual fiesta take place at Payippad Lake, 35 kms from Alappuzha. Besides the boat race, spectacular water pageants are organized.
Dates: 07th Sep 2006, 29th Aug 2007, 14th Sep 2008, 04th Sep 2009
4. ARANMULA BOAT RACE, Pamba River, Pathanamthitta
The two day Aranmula Boat Race conducted during Onam is more of a water fiesta than a competition, which 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. 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.
Dates: 09th Sep 2006, 31st Aug 2007, 16th Sep 2008, 06th Sep 2009
Other Major Festivals
The ancient and historic Koodalmanickam temple is situated in Irinjalakuda (70 kms from Cochin). The deity of this temple is Sree Bharatha who is generally not found consecrated in Kerala temples. This temple is in the true architectural pattern of Kerala temples. The festival here is held annually for all days in Medom (April-May). Kathakali, Ottamthullal, Panchavadayam and processions led by caparisoned elephants are the special features of the festival.
KODUNGALLOOR BHARANI UTSAVAM (50 kms from Cochin)
The Kodungallor Bhagavathi themple is one of the wealthiest temples in Kerala. Bhadrakali born of the third eye of Samhara Rudra, killed the demon Darika. It is to commemorate this event that the famous Bharani festival is celebrated in the Kodungalloor Bhagavathi temple in Meenam (March-April) every year. This festival attracts the largest congregation of Velichappadus (oracles) from all over Kerala.
In olden time every Hindu family in Kerala has a serpent-grove. Mannarsala, situated to the north-west of Sri. Subramanyaswamy temple, Haripad, is the seat of the famous temple of Nagaraja (God of serpents), the largest of its kind in Kerala. Built in a grove the temple is reputed for having 30,000 images of snake-Gods.
On the day of Ayilliam asterism (September and October), all the serpent idols in the grove and the temple are taken in procession to the illam (family connected with the temple) where the offerings of Nurum Palum (rice flour and milk), kuruthi (a red liquid made of turmeric and lime) and cooked rice are made. The oldest female member of the family carries the idol of the Nagaraja and the procession is conducted with great pomp and rejoicing.
THYPPOOYA MAHOTSAVAM, Koorkancheri, Thrissur
This festival is dedicated to Subrahmanya, son of Siva. The highlight of Thypooya Mahotsavam is a spectacular Kavadiyattam, a ritual dance offering carrying kavadis (bow shaped wooden structures decorated with tapestry, flowers and peacock feathers) on the shoulders.
KORATTY MUTHY’S FEAST
About seven kilometers to the south of Chalakudy, there is an old catholic church built in honour of St. Mary which is locally known as "Koratty Muthy's Church". The most important festival in this church is the 'Koratty Muthy's festival celebrated during the second week of October every year. It is celebrated on the Sunday after the fifth of October and people from far and near flock to the place to give their offerings to their Beloved Mother. This festival has importance as a great annual fair of the locality.
Malayattur is a village about six miles to the north-east of Kaladi, the birth place of the Hindu philosopher Sri Sankara. Situated on the banks of the Periyar and covered with thick hills, it is rightly called Malayattur. St. Thomas shrine at Malayattur is believed to be one of the ancient catholic shrines in the northern part of the State. The chief festival at the shrine is celebrated on the Sunday after Easter that is the second Sunday. The pilgrims have to climb a hill nearly 2000 feet high and on top of it is the church. The pilgrims chant prayers as they climb up and down the hill.
St. Mary's church at Manarcad, Kottayam is one of the outstanding churches of the Syrian Jacobite Church of Malabar. The most important festival here is the eight day fast in honour of St. Mary which starts on September 1. During all these days people belonging to all communities assemble here to make offerings and for fasting. On the 7th and 8th days colourful processions are taken out.
FESTIVAL AT CHERAMAN JUMAMASJID, Kodungalloor
This is the first Juma Masjid in India and is situated in the Methala Village of Kodungalloor taluk, hardly 20 kilometre from the Irinjalakuda railway station. According to the legend, Cheraman Perumal went on a pilgrimage to Arabia where he met Prophet Mohammed at Jeddah and embraced Islam and accepted the name Thajuddin. He married the sister of the then King of Jeddah and settled down there. Before his death he handed over the king of Jeddah several letters addressed to some rulers of Kerala seeking their help to propagate the tenets of Islam in Kerala. After his death the king came to Kerala and met the Rajah of Kodungalloor who helped him to convert the Arathali temple into a Juma Masjid. This mosque was designed and constructed by Hindus based on Hindu art and architecture. The graves of three great disciples are situated adjacent to this mosque which is the first in India and second in the world where the Juma prayers were started. People from all walks of life visit this mosque. Ramadan and Bakrid are the only celebrations held here.
FESTIVALS AT SABARIMALA
For many centuries Sabarimala has been an important pilgrim centre attracting devotees from all over India, especially from the Southern states. The presiding deity of Sabarimala is Lord Ayyappa known as Dhrama Sastha, his origin being traced to a union of Siva and Vishnu under special circumstance. He is also believed to have fulfilled his mission in life and rejoined his Supreme Self enshrined at Sabarimala. The temple is situated in the interior of the mountain ranges of the Western Ghats Sahyadri, and it is inaccessible except on foot. Pilgrims have to negotiate long shelter of the thick forests and tall mountains infested with all sorts of wild animals. Pilgrimage to Sabarimala cannot be undertaken at all seasons, because it requires long preparations and fixed timings. A devotee who wishes to perform the pilgrimage should undergo forty-one days' Vritham (penance) consisting of strict celibacy, morning and evening ablutions, daily prayers. Saranamvilli or the call of dedication and refuge in Lord Ayyappa is an essential part of the daily worship. In Sabarimala, the devotees see the Makara Vilakku the appearance of the spontaneous phenomenon of strange light in the distance, indicating the presence of god, and return ennobled and strengthened in spirit. Situated not far from the Sabarimala temple, there is a shrine in the name of Vavar, a Muslim of great valour, who was thought to be a close associate to Sri. Ayyappa. It is a rare feature of the pilgrimage to Sabarimala that the Hindu pilgrims offer worship at this shrine of Vavar also during their trip, indicating the communal harmony that prevailed in Kerala for ages. During the entire pilgrimage, all distinctions of caste and class are forgotten.