As Kerala presents the perfect amalgamation of cultures and traditions, it is no wonder you can experience a medley of festivals, unique only to this land. It portrays the tolerance and concomitant people have towards each other and how they get together to celebrate events, irrespective of the Hindu, Muslim, Christian tag and gets together wholeheartedly to sing and make joy.
1. Vishu Festivals in Kerala
Vishu is one of the most important festivals in Kerala as it is considered to be the New Year of Kerala. It is celebrated as per the old traditional Malayalam calendar and hence falls in April, or the month of Medam in the local language. One of the distinct attractions of this festival is that you deck up Lord Krishna’s idol in complete pomp and splendor the previous night.
The elders of the family wake the youngest of the family to catch the first glimpse of the idol. The popular belief is that a sight of the decked up Lord would bring peace, happiness and prosperity all year round. This “glimpse of the Lord” is called Vishu Kani, and certain rules are to be followed while preparing the Lord.
Vishu is a harvest festival where lots of fruits, vegetables and the popular flower “Konna” are placed on a platter and served before the deity. The youngest in the family look forward to getting monetary gifts from their elders on this day.
2. Onam Festival
The return of the famed Asura king, Mahabali, is the crux of the Onam celebration. The celebration of this festival awes even the most veteran visitor because it is so colorful, eventful and planned with total perfection.
The oldest boat race in Kerala (Aranmula Vallam kali), Pookkalam (adorning the front porch with a floral decoration), Thripunithura Athachamayan (a royal parade marking the beginning of the 10-day festival), Uthrada Pachil (frenzied shopping for gifts and goods), Feast on the Thiruvonam day, Pulikkali (a quirky tradition, indeed where men with biggest paunches are seen prancing as tigers, dancing to the tunes of drums) are all major events during Onam.
Writing in a few words the spirit of Onam is virtually impossible; you’ve really got to experience this festival at least once in your lifetime.
3. Boat Races of Kerala
Kerala is acclaimed for its boat races. A quick run-through of 5 of the main races:
1- Aranmula Vallamkali – It is a not a race, but rather a carousel of religions, where singers cheer and motivate the boaters; held during the August-September period.
2- President’s Trophy Boat Race – Held on the dazzling stretch of Kollam Backwaters on 1st November, marking Kerala’s birth anniversary.
3- Nehru Trophy Boat race – A boat race held with great spirit and vigor, around 120 odd men on a single boat, most celebrated boat race in Kerala; held in August every year.
4- Chempakulam Moolam Boat race – One of the oldest boat race and known for re-enacting the ancient tradition and culture of Kerala; held during the June-July period.
5- Payippad Jalotsavam – A three-day water festival celebrated with stunningly colorful water pageants; held during the August-September period.
4. Thrissur Pooram
The celebration of Thrissur Pooram is as old as 200 years, and one which is celebrated for 36 hours at a stretch. Vadakkunnathan temple, Thirvambady temple and Paramekkavu Devi temple are the three main temples that participate in this festival. The decorations and beautification of the temples are definitely worth a view.
Since the festival is held in April, the temperatures could be a bit high if you go unprepared. Carry plenty of liquids, sunglasses and umbrellas if you plan to witness the splendor. UNESCO has tagged Thrissur Pooram as the most spectacular festival on the entire planet, and rightly so as you will know when you witness it personally.
You can marvel at the elephants decked in splendor, the euphonious playing of drums and other instruments, resplendence during the exchange of sequinned parasols atop more than 50 elephants, and the bursting of firecrackers in the night marking the conclusion of the festival are all events you shouldn’t miss.
Theyyam is an ancient religion art form and comprises of about 400 types of dances, all related to Hindu deities. The dance form is more than 800 years old and is usually performed during the December-April period.
Theyyam or the dance of the gods is an elaborate ritual where the players adorn themselves with plenty of colors, masks and flowers. As part of Theyyam ritual, the players, as gods self-inflict themselves with scythes, and dance to a particular rhythm. This dance form is quite different from Kathakali.
6. Mandala Pooja
Mandala Pooja is celebrated with great pomp and vigor at Sabarimala Ayyappa temple in Palakkad district during the December-January period. Again, this is a festival followed by all religions. The spirit of brotherhood can be felt in the air because people who reach the abode of Lord Ayyappan reach there after doing penance.
They fast for 41 days prior to visiting the temple, abstain from worldly pleasures, and some people walk on foot through the dense forests and climb hills to reach the lord’s abode. They believe that chanting the lord’s name would prevent wild animals from attacking them. The festival reaches its climax during the “Makara Jyothi” and ends with “Kalabhattam“.
7. Attukaal Pongala
The Attukaal Ponagala is a festival celebrated solely by women. Guinness Book of World Records has awarded Attukaal Ponagala with the credit that it is the largest single gathering of women participating in a festival. This festival marks the 9th day of Attukaal temple festival.
Women join together to cook the favorite food of the Supreme Mother – rice boiled with ghee, jaggery and coconut scrapings in an earthen pot. Women who participated in this event claim to have experienced divinity and the love of the Goddess near them.
Other festivals include Kalpathi Ratholsavam (Chariot festival), a unique festival of colors and confluence of cultures in the Malabar region and of course, Christmas and New Year, especially in Fort Kochi where you can see the burning effigy of an old man. Ashtami Rohini, Thrikarthika and Mahashivarathri are all temple festivals that Keralites celebrate with great vigor and zest.
If you’re planning a trip to Kerala, be sure to schedule your itinerary in such a way that you get to experience the riot of colors during the festival season in Kerala. We’re sure you’ll enjoy it!
Sunu Phililp is the Inbound Marketing and Creative Head for Paradise Holidays, Cochin – a Kerala based tour operator. She loves reading, exploring new places and trying out different cuisines!