Kerala is a land of diversity. Everything about Kerala speaks for its culture and heritage. There are reasons why it is referred to as “God’s Own Country” and a lot of that can be witnessed in the way the festivals are celebrated in Kerala. The festivals in Kerala are colourful not in how they look but also have a lot of colour in expressing the spiritual values and age old customs. The ethnicity, traditional values and beliefs all are highlighted in their way of festivals and celebrations.
The festivals in Kerala include colourful dance performances, colourful rangolis, boat races and what not. You can experience the liveliest version of the state during its festivals. In this article I am going to mention 12 festivals of Kerala that are celebrated with the most grandeur and pomp. The splendid display of the important festivals in Kerala will leave you enriched and energized. So let’s start with the festivals now.
12 Festivals of Kerala
If you are wondering Onam is the festival of which state, then your answer will be Kerala. Onam festival is the state festival of Kerala and the most important festival in the state. It is the chief harvesting festival in Kerala which is celebrated annually. This is a ten day festival and is extremely significant in Kerala. They have a 4 day holiday as well during Onam festival.
If you have this question in your mind, that is, what is Onam, then let me tell you Onam is the festival where the Vamana avatar of Lord Vishnu is honoured and the homecoming of Mahabali is celebrated. This festival is specifically a festival of the Malayalees and is celebrated by Malayalees across the globe. It is celebrated in the month of Chingam of the Malayalam calendar that falls in the August-September month. Onam 2023 will be celebrated from 20th August to 31st August. The main day of the festival which is the Thiruvonam is on August 29th in 2023.
The history and mythological aspect of the Onam festival goes goes deep. According to the hindu mythology, Prahlada the great Brahmin sage had a grandson named Mahabali. He once took over all the three worlds after defeating the Devas or Gods. The Devas then went ahead and approached Lord Vishnu to help them fight Mahabali in getting their world back. Vishnu rejected the proposal because Mahabali was his devotee and also he was a just ruler.
On the other side Mahabali performed a Yajna after his victory over the Devas and he had to grant any wish of one person. Lord Vishnu then took the Vamana form which is a dwarf form and asked for three feet of land from Mahabali. With the first two feet the whole world and beyond was covered already and it left Mahabali surprised. As he knew denying a gift to a Vamana Brahmin is not a moral act, he offered his own head for the last foot. Lord Vishnu then trampled Mahabali and sent him to Patala (hell). But since Lord Vishnu was happy with Mahabali’s sincerity he granted his wish to visit his own land once every year. So the Onam festival is celebrated as the time of King Mahabali’s homecoming to witness the prosperity of his own land.
The Onam festival in Kerala is celebrated with a lot of pomp and begins with a parade known as Attachamayam where the culture and traditions of Kerala are featured in a form of a procession. They also make Onam Pookalam which is a floral carpet and Pookalam which is a decoration much similar to Rangoli. Various traditional dances and performances also take place during this time. Thirvathirakal is one dance form that is performed on the Onam day by the women. Folk songs of Lord Shiva and Parvati Devi are also performed which is known as the Thiruvathira Paattu. Other popular dance forms are Onam Kali which is a dance form revolving around the depictions of Ramayana and Pulikali is a leopard dance form performed on the 4th day of the festival.
Onam is a 10 day festival. The days are Atham, Chithira, Chodhi, Vishakam, Anizham, Thriketa, Moolam, Pooradam, Uthradam and Thiruvonam. Thiruvonam is the final day of Onam that is the 10th day but the next two days are also considered as days of Onam. These are Avittom and Chatayam. In these two days the preparations are done for Mahabali’s departure.
The grand feast in Onam is another point to highlight. This is known as Onasadya or the traditional feast. Sadya in Malayalam means banquet. There are a total of 29 dishes that include delicious vegetarian curries and some desserts and served over a banana leaf. The dishes includes, Rice, Chips, Sambhar, Pappadam, Ghee, Rasam, Dal, Pickle, Sharkaravaratti, Avial, Injipuli, Thoran, Erisheri, Puliseri, Coconut Chutney, Moru and some delicious items and ends with the super delectable Payasam.
Since this is a harvest festival this is a happy festival that includes the religious, cultural and cheerful side of the State, it is a festival of Kerala but not necessarily limited to the state of Kerala. The festival is celebrated by the Malayali community from all over the world including USA, UAE and Singapore.
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Thrissur Pooram Festival
This is another popular festival in Kerala. This is basically a Temple Festival in Kerala that shows a depiction of the rich cultural heritage and vibrancy of the state. There are about 12 temples that club together and celebrate this festival. It is an eight day long festival that is celebrated with a lot of enthusiasm. Thrissur Pooram is the last day of the eight day long festival and it is also the main day of the festival. This festival is celebrated in the month of Medam of the Malayalam calendar that falls approximately in April – May months.
The festival is celebrated with various activities for eight days that includes fireworks, flag hoisting, parade, elephant decoration, music and more. The festival includes various religious traditions and hoisting of the holy flag. There are processions all over the state. Everyone is offered rice and coconut as Prasad of the God. People who are inclined toward cultural festivals and processions must witness this festival. You will get a very close view of the traditions of Kerala through this festival. Some of the important and notable temples like the Thrissur Temple, Sabarimala Temple, Vaikom, Attukal, Padmanabhaswamy, Chinakkathor etc celebrate this festival. This is like a treat to the eyes of the visitors here.
Kerala Boat Festival
The backwater in Kerala is one of the reasons why this place is famous and so popular among the tourists. The Boat festivals in Kerala further accentuate the charm of the water canals and are one of the most important festivals in Kerala. This festival is all about the team spirit and synchronization of the team members. This is an enthusiastic and thrilling festival that will be a unique experience to enjoy.
In this festival there are usually boats of different sizes that are pushed by many people at the same time. The people participating take this in very good spirit and enjoy this activity a lot. Not only that a lot of people even gather there to cheer for the participants and overall the ambience becomes very cheerful and lively. Some of the popular boat races in Kerala are Nehru Trophy Boat Race in Alleppey, Champakulam Moolam Boat Race in Alappuzha, Uthrattadi Vallamkali Boat Race in Punnamada Lake, Payippad Jalotsav in Payippad Lake. One must experience this because everything about this festival will cheer you up and give you a lot of joy and freshness.
Attukal Pongala Festival
Attukal Pongala is another important festival in Kerala. Attukal Pongala is a temple festival that is celebrated for 10 days. The festival takes place during the months of February or March. This festival is mainly celebrated in Trivandrum but the spirit and faith of the festival spreads across the state. For this festival the Goddess Attukal Devi is worshipped and people from everywhere visit the Attukal Devi Temple during this time. The festival also holds a position in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest annual gathering of women for religious reasons. This religious festival is of utmost religious importance in Kerala. The festival also holds the record of hosting the largest female crowd every year in the Guinness Book of World Records.
People from all sorts of religions, castes and creeds attend this festival. The women wear the best outfits and decorate the Attukal Devi with colourful bangles. The Goddess is served Ponkala rice that is a rice preparation with jaggery and other items. This is offered as a sign of a praising gesture towards the Goddess. The festival also includes bhajans, plays, kirtans and parades.
The Vishu festival is the first day of the Malayali year and is one of the most important festivals of Kerala. The festival is celebrated in April every year. This is mostly a festival that is celebrated at home. The people take part in Pujas and get together with family and close ones. The festival is followed by having Sadya which is the grand mid day feast and is concluded with fireworks in the evening.
The night before this festival auspicious items are collected like rice, metal mirrors, yellow flowers, fruits, vegetables, betel leaves, holy books etc. All of these signify wealth and they are then put into a vessel in a specific fashion. The vessel is then kept in the room of prayers for the night. The next morning then starts with the first sight of lord Vishu known as Kani Kanal. The whole ritual is known as Vishukkani. This is done to ensure that everyone can see things related to wealth and prosperity, first thing in the morning and then they wear new clothes. After that the celebration starts.
The devotees also visit temples like Guruvayur Sree Krishna Temple, Sabarimala Ayyappan Temple amongst other popular temples in Vishu.
Makaravilakku at Sabarimala Festival
Makaravilaku is another important religious festival in Kerala. It is a 10 day long festival held in the month of January every year during the time of Makar Sankrati. The festival takes place in the Sabarimala Temple and is dedicated to lord Ayyapa. Lord Ayyappa is also known as “Hari Hara Putra”. Hari means Vishnu, Hara means Shiva and the word Putra means Son. Lord Ayyappa is worshipped by both Saivites that are devotees of Lord Shiva and Vaishnaites that are devotees of Lord Vishnu.
During the festival the Divya Jyoti is seen from 9 different spots. Also in the Thiruvabharanam procession the Lord’s accessories are transferred to Sabarimala from the old palace. A priest dances with a box of God’s jewellery over his head. Also there is chanting all through this that fills the air with divinity, the festival then concludes with the Guruthi ceremony which is the ceremony of offering to the God. After this the temple premise is emptied and nobody stays back.
Christmas celebration is a popular festival in Kerala because of a major chunk of Christian population in the state. Kerala is also one of the Indian states where Christmas is celebrated with much grandeur. The Christmas trees are decorated and gifts are exchanged during the festival. The churches are also decorated really well and the people visit there to offer their prayers.
Christmas is celebrated on the 25th of December, but the whole month of December basks in the festivity. The streets are well decorated and look LIT. The houses are decorated with lights and Christmas essentials and look vivacious. People take part in Christmas carols, arrange a grand feast and also indulge in street shopping during this time. Christmas Mass is also held in a lot of churches and people love to attend that. Christmas is not merely a holiday for the people here but they celebrate the festival with much enthusiasm and enjoy the event of the birth of Jesus Christ. The churches remain full to their capacity and the people light candles there and sing hymns. Cakes are distributed to everyone later on.
Theyyam is another famous cultural festival in Kerala. It is one form of worship in Kerala. The festival is mostly popular in the Kudagu, North Malabar and the Kolathunadu regions. This is a festival that has been going on for the past 800 years. This festival flaunts folk dances and art of Kerala. There are almost 400 types of dance forms. They perform Theyyam performances out of which Raktha Chamundi, Kari Chamundi, Muchilottu Bhagavathi, Wayanad Kulavan are mostly performed. They depict different mythological tales through their art and display and perform. The performers wear colourful dresses and paint their faces and get ready as deities.
The performer dances on a stone platform and goes through three stages of dancing. In the first stage the performer is adorned with colourful masks, flowers and paint. The second stage is the stage of self torture. The third stage is where they dance without any rhythm. The festival takes place during the December month every year and is attended by a lot of people. You can see a different version of the ethnicity and culture of Kerala through this particular festival.
The Maha Shivaratri is another festival that is celebrated widely in Kerala. Kerala as a land has many temples and a lot of them are dedicated to Lord Shiva. In Kerala Shivaratri is celebrated in the month of Kumbham which falls between February and March. All the traditional rituals are followed and the devotees keep fasts and offer their prayer to Lord Shiva. They keep on chanting Om Namah Shivaya mantra the whole day and listen to Kathas and mythological tales. Many of the devotees also stay awake throughout the night.
A major attraction during the Maha Shivaratri is the cultural programmes that are organised. The popular temples like Vadakkunnathan Temple in Thrissur, Sreekanteswaram Mahadeva Temple in Thrissur and Mahadeva Temple in Vaikom are some of the temples that witness the major surge of devotees during this time of the festival. The festival is seen in its grandest form on the bank of the Periyar River and it is a wonderful sight to see the devotees gathering up for religious purposes.
The festival of Thiruvathira is another popular festival in Kerala. It is also known as Arudha Darisanam. The festival is also celebrated in Tamil Nadu. It is believed that Lord Shiva met Goddess Parvati on this very day and they chose each other as their partner. This festival also celebrated the Ardhanarishwar form of Lord Shiva which is the form of Lord Shiva depicting half Shiva and half Parvati Devi.
This day is important for the unmarried women who pray to Lord Shiva in order to get a good life partner. The women keep fast and do puja. The married women also observe a fast to ensure the well being of their husbands and family. The temples are decorated really well for this festival and a lot of cultural performances are arranged. The women perform the Thiruvathirakali Dance and also sing and listen to local folk songs dedicated to Lord Shiva and Parvati Devi. For married women, her first Thiruvathira is known as the Poothiruvathira.
Aarattu of Lord Padmanabhan
This festival is also known as the Holy Bath. It is celebrated in the Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Trivandrum. It is held every year and people from all over the country visit the temple during the time of this festival. Arattu literally means the Holy Bath. During this festival the priests of this temple take the idol of Lord Padmanabhan and take a bath in the river while holding the idol in hand. The festival is organized by the royal family of Travancore.
The Arattu festival is one of the popular and well known festivals in Kerala. The Padmanabhaswamy Temple is already a very popular place of worship in Kerala and during this festival the number of devotees increases a lot. The temple looks beautiful with the decorations during this festival. All the rituals are performed by the Royal family and the local people and the priests take a holy bath.
As mentioned earlier Arattu means Holy Bath and this festival is the ceremony revolving around Lord Krishna. This is another important festival in Kerala and a lot of people attend this festival as well. This is a 10 day long festival that is celebrated in the Sree Krishnaswamy Temple in Alappuzha. On the last day of the 10 days long festival the Lord Krishna idol is taken for a holy bath on the bank of the river.
The temple is decorated very beautifully during this festival. The local people and the priests organize special ceremonies during this festival and the devotees attend the prayer. The rituals are breathtakingly beautiful and you must visit the temple and walk around to observe and enjoy all the rituals well.
Kerala is a lively and colourful land with diversity in its culture and celebrates the festivals with much enthusiasm. The Kerala famous festivals reflect the culture of the state and also the deep values and beliefs of the age-old traditions. The religious festivals here are celebrated with a lot of heart and soul and these are important for the devotees. The festivals also hold a cultural significance in the lives of the people living there. The festivals of Kerala are grand and one should try to experience the festivals to understand the beliefs and traditions imbibed in the lifestyle of Keralites.
If you visit Kerala try to adjust your travel schedule in such a way that you can at least witness any of these festivals. The festivals in Kerala would give you a much deeper insight to understand the state, its people and their way of life. I think it will be a great experience for any of you to experience this. Do let me know if you have ever visited Kerala or attended any of the festivals mentioned in this article. Also do let me know if this article was helpful for you to know everything about the festivals of Kerala.