Celebrating the Onam Festival in India

onam festival india

The Onam festival is a huge holiday and celebration in India—particularly in the state of Kerala. This ancient harvest festival occurs every year and is an important event for the Malayali people.

Visitors to Kerala are more than welcome to join in the festivities, including fireworks displays, music, dancing, and other performances.

This article details how Onam is celebrated, when the festival takes place, the story behind the holiday, and how to visit Kerala to celebrate Onam with the eVisa for India.

How Is Onam Celebrated?

Onam festival is celebrated in the state of Kerala primarily, but Malayali people around the world also mark the occasion with festivities.

The festival spans 10 days, during which there are many events and activities to celebrate. Bright and colorful decorations fill the towns and cities of Kerala, including a pookalam — a special homemade floral rangoli that each family places at the entrance to their home.

During Onam, visitors with an India tourist visa can expect to see the following events as part of the celebrations:

  • Traditional dances, including Pulikali, or “tiger dances”
  • Music, including people playing trumpets and traditional Kerala folk instruments
  • Parades
  • Fireworks displays
  • Lights in homes and in the streets
  • Floral decorations at Hindu temples
  • Vallam kali (the traditional Onam festival boat race in traditional paddled canoes)

These festivities celebrate the culture and heritage of Kerala and the colors of the state are featured prominently throughout.

There is also an important traditional feast called Onasadya, which is made up of 9 courses of vegetarian dishes served on plantain leaves.

When Is Onam Celebrated in Kerala?

Onam is celebrated according to the Malayalam calendar. It falls at the start of the month of Chingam, which means it usually occurs in late August and early September on the Gregorian calendar.

Onam marks the start of the Malayalam year as well as the beginning of the harvest.

The final day of the festival, Thiru Onam or Thiruvonam, takes places on the following dates over the next few years:

  • Onam festival 2020: August 31
  • Onam festival 2021: August 21
  • Onam festival 2022: September 8
  • Onam festival 2023: August 29

Which Is the Main Day for Onam?

The main day of the Onam festival is known as Thiru Onam or Thiruvonam. This is the day on which most of the festivities take place, including the feasts, boat races, and many events at Hindu temples. It is also the last day of the festival.

The first day, Atham, is also important. It is marked by parades, the raising of the festival flag, and the start of festivities at Vamanamoorthy Thrikkakara—the temple of Vishnu in Kochi.

The 10 days of Onam are as follows:

  1. Atham
  2. Chithira
  3. Chodhi
  4. Vishakam
  5. Anizham
  6. Thriketa
  7. Moolam
  8. Pooradam
  9. Uthradam
  10. Thiruvonam

Why Do People Celebrate the Onam Festival?

Onam is one of the most important festivals for the Malayali people and is the official festival of the Indian state of Kerala. It marks the Malayalam New Year as well as celebrating the harvest season.

Onam is usually thought of as a Hindu festival. According to tradition, it commemorates the mythical king Mahabali’s return to earth after proving his devotion to Vishnu. Many of the festivities center around Hindu temples.

However, the popularity of the festival throughout the centuries have led it to become an important celebration of Kerala’s culture and heritage. Many non-Hindu people also celebrate Onam, including Christians and Muslims, as it is seen as a cultural festival as opposed to a religious one.

What Is the Story of Onam Festival?

There is more than one Onam story explaining the origin of the festival.

Perhaps the most popular is the Hindu legend of Mahabali, a divine king and devotee of Vishnu. After conquering the heavens and earth, winning a great victory over the gods, Mahabali decided to perform a Yajna (a ritual involving offerings or sacrifice) and would grant anyone any request.

Vishnu tested Mahabali by approaching him in the form of his dwarf avatar, Vamana. He asked for 3 paces of land, to which Mahabali agreed. Vamana then grew to an enormous size, covering the entire earth with one pace and the heavens with the second.

Mahabali offered his own head as a place for the giant Vamana/Vishnu to take his final step. This proved his devotion and Vishnu rewarded him by allowing him to return after death to the lands and people he had ruled once every year. Onam celebrates his return.

Another tradition holds that Onam commemorates the victory of Vishnu in his Parashurama avatar over the oppressive King Kaartavirya and his creation of Kerala.

How to Celebrate Onam in India

International visitors who wish to experience the Onam festival in Kerala must first obtain authorization to enter India.

Travelers who meet the requirements for the India eVisa can apply online, avoiding an unnecessary trip to an embassy and the lengthy application process involved.

Different types of visa are available online, including the India business eVisa and the eMedical visa for India. International visitors coming to celebrate a festival like Onam will most likely need a tourist visa.

The India eVisa application form is quick and simple to complete, usually taking a matter of minutes to fill in.