In Kerala, the grand Onam festival continues for a long period of ten days. Some small regions, however, celebrate it for only four to five days. Onam falls during the months of August-September and coincides with the harvesting season. It is celebrated with great fervor during the entire ten days but there are specific rituals to be followed for each day of Onam and people religiously perform them. The first day and the last day are the most significant and are of high importance. People in certain parts of Kerala also consider the ninth day to be extremely important for celebrations.
1st day of Onam: Atham
Atham is the first day of Onam in this long carnival period of ten days. People of Kerala who are very traditional regard Atham as the most auspicious of days as it comes ten days before the asterism Onam or Thiru Onam. The rituals for this day include taking a bath early morning and visiting the local temple to offer prayers. There is also a set breakfast throughout Onam which consists of steamed bananas and fried pappadam (papad). It is the same for all the ten days. This day also marks the beginning of making Pookalam. To mark the beginning of Onam, a grand procession called Athachamyam is carried out.
2nd Day of Onam: Chithira
There are no particular rituals on this second day of Onam. People still go to temples and offer prayers to seek blessings. Women and girls add more flowers to their Pookalam designs. People usually plan and discuss the festival on this day.
3rd Day of Onam: Chodhi
The third day of Onam is called Chodhi or Chothi. There is no particular ritual set for this day. People go for shopping clothes, accessories, gifts and other goods for the grand day. With the gaining popularity of the festival, shopkeepers and retailers offer incentives and sales to attract customers.
4th Day of Onam: Visakam
Visakam is the fourth day of Onam. With the last approaching fast with each passing day, there is obvious excitement among the people. The Pookalam designs get bigger and grander. Women start preparing for the big feast. Pookalam competitions are held by various communities and there is general merriment among the people.
5th Day of Onam: Anizham
The fifth day of Onam is Anizham. The highlight of this day is the grand boat race called Vallamkali that takes place on Pamba River at Aranmulla. People from Kerala, tourists from around the world gather in masses to witness this race. Chundan Vallams, the long snake like boats used in this competition are exquisitely decorated. Oarsmen are dressed in traditional dhoti and turbans and they row the boat to the beats of boat songs.
6th Day of Onam: Thriketa
The sixth day of Onam is Thriketa or Triketta as it is called. The atmosphere is one of joy and celebration and cultural programs and gatherings take place all over Kerala. There are no rituals for this day. Families starts gathering together to prepare for the celebrations for the main day.
7th Day of Onam: Moolam
Moolam is the seventh day of Onam. The enthusiasm is palpable among the people of Kerala with just two days left for the main festival. All the houses, shops, commercials places are brightly decorated and there is excitement in the atmosphere all around. Last minute shopping, preparations for the feast and decorations are in full swing. The joy, jubilation and happiness can be felt among the people.
8th Day of Onam: Pooradam
Pooradam is the eighth day of Onam. This day is of great significance in Onam as devotees create clay idols of in small pyramid shapes called Ma. Flowers are used to decorate each Ma. As idols are created on Pooradam, they are also called Poorada Uttigal. Pookalam sizes get further increased on this day and a new flower is added to the design.
9th Day of Onam: Uthradam
Uthradam is the ninth day of Onam, prior to Thiruvonam. People prepare for the celebrations and welcome of king Mahabali’s spirit. In some regions, celebrations for Onam start on this ninth day.
10th Day of Onam: Thiruvonam
On this grand last day of Oman, Kerala looks very enchanting. Echos of Onaashmsakal, “To everyone, Onam Wishes” can be heard from people all around as they exchange greetings on this most important day of Onam. It is believed that on this day of Onam, the spirit of king Mahabali visits the state of Kerala.
People wake up early morning and take a bath. They dress up in new clothes for the special prayers for this day and then go to a local temple of offer prayers. A special grand Pookalam is prepared for this day and Ma, the clay idols are placed in front of it. Onasadya, the grand feast of Onam, is prepared at noon. This meal consists of strictly vegetarian food and includes 11 to 13 mandatory dishes that are served on a banana leaf. The eldest member of the family distributes gifts to the entire family. Throughout the state, cultural events such as dances, shows etc. take place to mark this day.
For the eleventh and twelfth day, there are some rituals marked but the major celebrations end on the tenth day.