India 19.06.2014 Transindus
Kerala is one of the most culturally fascinating destinations in India, and part of what makes this the case is the wonderful events that populate its annual calendar. Two of the finest are fast approaching, and it's these we will be telling you about today.
The first of these is Onam, which is often referred to as the most important festival in Kerala. It is held at the start of the month of Chingam (which is the first month in the Malayalam calendar), which means it falls in August and September.
It is predominantly a harvest festival, though it also plays a role in a local legend. Indeed, it celebrates the return of the spirit of King Mahabali, who is said to come back to Kerala every year during this time.
So where did this legend come from? The story goes that Kerala experienced a kind of golden era under the reign of a king known as Mahabali. Jealous of his power and prosperity, the gods exploited the king's chief weakness - his egoism - to bring about the end of his reign. It is said that, while they wanted to remove him from the throne, the gods did look kindly on the good work he had done for the state, and so granted him the power to return to it annually - something that he is believed to do during Onam.
Celebrated all over the state, Onam is a ten-day extravanganza of elephant parades, dancing, singing, flowers and feasts, and tourists flock to it in their droves each year.
While the whole festival is a wonderful spectacle, the first and tenth days are the most important. The first, known as Atham, is marked by the creation of colourful floral carpets called pookalam, with more blooms being added on each day of the festival. Atham is also a day of prayer, so you will notice people making their way to their local temple.
The days of the festival are a wonderful time to experience Kerala's cultural heritage. Among the elements to look out for is Vallamkali or the Snake Boat Race, where you can see a beautifully decorated boat propelled along by hundreds of oarsmen.
Meanwhile, activities that go on throughout the festival include sports such as archery, and dances such as Kaikotti Jalu and Thumbi Thullal, which are traditionally performed by women. Indeed, there are a lot of performances to look out for - Pulikali, for instance, sees people paint themselves like tigers and re-enact hunting scenes, and are great fun to watch.
The tenth day of the festival is known as Thiruvonam and is regarded as its most important day. In fact, the fun can begin as early as 04:00, so be prepared for a long day of revelry. Without doubt, the highlight of the day's festivities is Onasadya. A colossal lunch, Onasadya must always include 11 to 13 traditional, staple dishes.
Nehru Trophy Boat Race
Held on the second Saturday of every August, the Nehru Trophy Boat Race is staged on Punnamada Lake near Alappuzha. People from each village in Kuttanad flock here to compete to win this prestigious trophy, which has become an important part of local heritage and tradition - and it's fantastic fun for tourists to watch.
The boats, which span more than 100 ft, are incredibly impressive to look at - especially when collected on the lake in large number for the race. The event has its roots in the 1950s, when Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, who was then prime minister of India, came to visit Alappuzha.
He arrived via water, surrounded by a procession of boats, and the boat race was held to honour his arrival. Nehru was so excited by the race that he created a trophy, now known as the Nehru Trophy, to be given to the winners - and the event evolved into an annual affair. This year's festival will be held on August 9th, and promises to be just as thrilling as ever.