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Hindu Holidays: Celebrating the Onam Festival in India

Onam Festival in India

The Onam Festival is a ten-day-long celebration in Kerala that welcomes the return of its previous king Mahabali. Tradition holds that Mahabali was both generous and kind, and today, he visits his former kingdom each year during Onam.

This is one of India’s grandest festivals, with many unique traditions that reflect the culture and history of this country.

In this article, you’ll learn all about Onam—at, we hope to make every aspect of your learning journey both fun and informative! So let’s get started.

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1. What is Onam?

Onam is a popular and essential festival for the people of Kerala.

According to the holiday’s legend, the kind and generous former king of Kerala, named Mahabali, visits his people during this massive festival each year. Mahabali is known for giving up all of his kingdoms to Lord Vishu, who visited him in the form of a dwarf named Vaman, and he, himself went to the underworld.

Thus, the people of Kerala seek to celebrate the visitation of such a wonderful and generous king.

2. When is Onam?

10-Day Holiday

Kerala celebrates the Onam Festival during the first month of the Malayalam calendar. As such, the date of Onam varies each year on the Gregorian calendar. For your convenience, we’ve composed a list of this holiday’s date for the next ten years.

  • 2019: September 11
  • 2020: August 31
  • 2021: August 21
  • 2022: September 8
  • 2023: August 29
  • 2024: September 15
  • 2025: September 5
  • 2026: August 26
  • 2027: September 12
  • 2028: September 1

3. Onam Celebrations & Traditions

People Eating a Big Lunch

This festival is celebrated for ten days, and the tenth day is called Thiruonam, which is very important.

During this festival, people bring colorful flowers from gardens and market places, and decorate the courtyard of their houses. Women make beautiful flower designs (rangoli) in the courtyard and decorate with lamps.

The special feature of this flower design is that it’s round in shape, and for each of the ten days of the Onam festival, another round circle of flowers is added. These flower designs are called Pukkolam

Women perform a special dance called Keikottikkali around this circle of flowers, while singing melodius, rhythmic songs.

The most enchanting event of this festival? Most certainly the Snake Boat Race called called Vallamkali or “water race.”

These boats are shaped like a snake and are rowed by about forty to one hundred paddlers. Like the dancers, the boatmen sing rhythmic songs, and paddle to the rhythms. This event gains much enthusiasm and excitement from the audience!

4. Onam Sadya & Payasam

Now for everyone’s favorite topic: traditional food!

On Onam, as well as many other important holidays and events in India, people eat something called sadya. Essentially, this is a vegetarian meal that consists of multiple dishes, which is plated on a banana leaf. People eat sadya with their right hand, while sitting on mats.

Payasam (also called Kheer), is a special rice pudding. Typically, it’s made with boiled milk, sugar, and some type of grain; its flavor is then enhanced dried fruit or nuts.

5. Vocabulary You Should Know for Onam

Flower Floor Decoration

Here’s some vocabulary you should know for Onam in India!

  • ओणम (oNam) — Onam
  • दस दिन तक चलना (Das Din Tak chalna) — Last for ten days
  • पूकलम (Pookalam) — Flower floor decoration
  • नौका दौड़ (nauka daud) — Boat Race
  • दावत (DaavaT) — Banquet lunch
  • घर वापसी (ghar vaapassi) — Homecoming
  • पायसम (paayasam) — Payasam
  • नए कपड़े (naye kapde) — New clothes
  • महान सम्राट (mahaan samraat) — Great king
  • सम्राट महाबली (samraat bahaabali) — Emperor Mahabali

To hear each of these Hindi vocabulary words pronounced, check out our Onam vocabulary list! Here, you’ll also find relevant images alongside each word to help you better remember what they mean. 🙂

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We hope you enjoyed learning about the Onam Festival with us! Which of the celebrations we talked about sounds the most interesting to you, and why? We look forward to hearing what you have to say!

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We hope you’ll give your Hindu friends nice Onam wishes and a “Happy Onam!” (हैप्पी ओणम!).

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