Onam Customs

Onam, a harvest festival emblematizes the agrarian past of the state of Kerala with the celebration of Vishnu's Vamana avatara and return of mythical king Mahabali forming significant parts of it. This festival usually falling during the months of August- September is an occasion of merriment not just at individual households but also on a large scale of the whole Kerala society. Since Onam is recognized as a state festival, people enjoy four state holidays to observe the colourful and deeply traditional customs in their full measure including the following:-


Marking the beginning with an exceptional grandeur, Athachamayam is a majestic procession which is reminiscent of a royal practice where the one-time Kochi state's Maharaja with the entire following visited the Thripunithura Fort. Keeping with this custom despite the absence of any king, the people of Kerala invest high amount of energies in carrying out this procession at Piravam and Thirupunithura. Along with being closely related to Malayalam culture this custom attracts the world's eyes owing to the caparisoned elephants, dance and music performances by folk artists.

Boat Race

Popular across the globe, the traditional event of Boat Race is organized some days before Thiru Onam. Also known by the names of snake boat race and Vallamkalli, though observed in all parts of the state, the most significant races is held in Alappuzha. The participation in this event is large with the use of several immensely decorated boats known as chandan vallams. Numerous boatmen rowing on the rhythm of the music of drums and songs, is an enchanting sight.

Aranmula Uthrittathi

A boat rowing event without the spirit of competition, Aranmula Uthrittathi is celebrated to re-experience the myth of Lord Krishna crossing the river on this particular day. It is held annually at Aranmula on the day of Uthrittathi Asterism.

Celebrations at Cheruthuruthy

This custom is one where the people of villages come together to share one space and watch various Kathakali performances and the dramatization of scenes from folk tales as well as the epics.

Procession of Elephants

Elephants being important part of the life of people of Kerala are dressed in fine clothes in Trichur. Following which a procession of magnificent elephants is taken out accompanied with songs and dance, forming a special event for the children of the state.

Kuduvakali or Pulikali Performances

Famous event of Palghat and Thrissur districts, it is the most enjoyable custom of Onam. Here the performers dress up, paint their bodies and disguise themselves as tigers to present the scenes of goats being hunted by tigers and tigers being hunted by humans. The performances are infused with beats and rhythm through udduku and thakil.


Enactment of mythical narratives forms a part of this custom in the area of South Malabar. It mostly takes place through songs and dances with the performers using wooden masks and plaited grass as means of dressing up.

Athapoovu Competitions

Another of the customs of Onam, Pookalam has evolved as an art form. It has become a platform for the designers to exhibit their creativity where participation and the audience of Pookalam decoration are huge across the state.

Thiruvathirakali or Kaikotti Kali

This custom is a merriment dedicated to the praise of the mythological king Mahabali, where troupes of women perform a graceful clap dance. The venue of celebration hosts a lit bronze lamp known as nilavilakuku.

Thumbi Thullal

Out of the many folk dances, this folk dance forms a primary part of Onam celebrations. In it groups of women dance in the formation of circles with the main performer responsible for song initiation in the center.


Games are played all over Kerala as an extension of Onam where the elderly opt for indoor games like chess and cards. The young adults enjoy arduous sports such as Kutukutu, Talappanthukali, Attakalam and Kayyankali organized by different organizations.