Festivals are true celebrations in God's Own Country; occasions when grandeur prevails over the characteristic simplicity of the Kerala lifestyle. Be it the state festival of Onam or the one at a local place of worship, new attire and sumptuous feasts are a must for the celebrations.
Onam is the biggest and the most important festival of Kerala. It is a harvest festival and is celebrated with joy and enthusiasm all over the state by people of all communities. According to a popular legend, the festival is celebrated to welcome King Mahabali, whose spirit is said to visit Kerala at the time of Onam.
Onam is celebrated in the beginning of the month of Chingam, the first month of Malayalam Calendar (Kollavarsham). This corresponds with the month of August-September according to Gregorian Calendar.
Carnival of Onam lasts from four to ten days. First day, Atham and tenth day, Thiruonam are most important of all. Popularity and presentation of rich culture of the state during the carnival made Onam the National Festival of Kerala in 1961. Elaborate feasts, folk songs, elegant dances, energetic games, elephants, boats and flowers all are a part of the dynamic festival called Onam. The festival is marked by various festivities, including intricate flower carpets, elaborate banquet lunches, snake boat races, Onappottan,Athachamayam in Tripunithura, Kaazhchakkula in Guruvayoor, Puli Kali, Kaikottikkali, Kummaattikkali, Onathaar, Onachamayam, Onathallu, Thrikkaakarayappan, Thumbi thullal, Onavillu etc. This is one of the very few festivals which is celebrated with most number of cultural elements.
The festival of Vishu is celebrated with joy and mirth on the first day of Malayalam Calendar (Kollavarsham) Medam. This corresponds to the month of April-May according to Gregorian calendar. The occasion holds a lot of significance for Hindus as Vishu marks the Astronomical New Year Day.
The traditional people of Kerala practice a lot of colorful rituals and customs on Vishu. Most of these traditions are based on a belief that Vishu must be celebrated well as the good things of the first day of the New Year will continue for the rest of the year too.
Most important ritual of the day is called 'Kani Kanal', the literal translation of this is 'first sight'. In Kani Kanal there is a prescribed list of items, which a person must see first thing on a Vishu morning to bring good luck. There is also a tradition to give small amounts of cash to children of the family. This tradition is called Vishu Kaineetam. People believe that this custom will ensure prosperity for their children in future.
Thiruvathira is celebrated on the asterism Thiruvathira in Dhanu, the fifth month of Malayalam Calendar (Kollavarsham). This corresponds to the month of December-January according to Gregorian calendar.
Thiruvathira is essentially women's festival. Ladies on this day worship Lord Shiva and pray for conjugal harmony and marital bliss. The other very interesting facet of the festival is the enchanting Thiruvathirakkali dance performed by women on this day.
Mandala Pooja celebrations continues for a period of 41 days beginning from first day of the Malayalam month of Vrishchikam (November-December) and culminating on eleventh day of Dhanu (December-January). During this period devotees make a pilgrimage to the famous shrine of Lord Ayyappa at Sabarimala. As a tradition, those visiting Sabarimala also visit the temple at Guruvayur. Mandala Pooja signifies 41 days of austerities. Main Mandala pooja is conducted on the 41st day after the 1st of Vrichikam.
Attukal Pongala is an extremely popular, essentially women's festival celebrated in ancient Bhagavathy temple (Mudippura) at Attukal in Thiruvananthapuram district. It is a ten-day-long event which commences from the Bharani day (Karthika star) of the Malayalam month of Makaram-Kumbham (February-March) and comes to an end with the sacrificial offering known as Kuruthitharpanam at night. Ninth day is the biggest day of the festival when the famous Attukal Pongala Mahotsavam takes place. A large number of women of all castes and creed from Kerala and also from the state of Tamil Nadu make offerings for the Goddess by cooking pongala in the vicinity of the temple.
Ashtami Rohini is the celebration of the birthday of Lord Krishna. This is the same as Krishna Janmashtami in the north India with regional variations. Ashtami Rohini falls in the Malayalam month of Chingam (August-September) under the fourth lunar asterism or Rohini Nakshatra, on the 8th quart of the moon Ashtami.
Thrissur Pooram is the most spectacular festival of Kerala. It is aptly called Pooram of all Poorams where Pooram means 'the meeting point of all the arts'. Rich art and culture of the state of Kerala can be seen in all its splendor in this marathon 36 hours festival. Thrissur Pooram is celebrated in the asterism Pooram in the month of Medam according to Malayalam calendar. This refers to the month of April-May according to Gregorian calendar.
Theyyam is a popular ritual art of north Kerala. It is rich in culture and is essentially a dance festival. Theyyam is said to be corrupted form of the word 'Deivam' meaning God and 'Aattam' means dance. The meaning of Theyyam thus becomes 'God's dance'. In Theyyam people worship deity and dancer is also the deity. In this art devotees worship Mother Goddess. Though animals, serpents and trees are also worshiped by many.
Kettukazcha, also called Kutirakettu, is a colourful event celebrated in Nooranad village located in Kollam district of South Kerala during the months of August-September or September-October. The centre of activity is the Oachira Temple located nearly 32 kms from Kollam on the way to Alappuzha. A special feature of this temple is the absence of idol here. The concept of 'Parabrahmam' (Cosmic Consciousness) is given importance here. It is from this temple that the procession of decorated effigies of Lord Shiva's vehicle 'Nandi', the bull is carried out.
Christmas is one of the Biggest festival in Kerala, thanks to strong Christian community. Today X'mas has moved more a secular festival than a religious festival. The days starting from 23rd of Dec till 2nd of Jan is considered as most festive days in a year, with terrific shopping, parties, parades and the entire air is filled with festivities organized by many. Parades on X'mas Eves in major Churches are worth to watch and special masses in churches as well as X'mas feast are something that anybody wish for. Today most of the large hotels in the state offer Gala X'mas Buffet feasts, which must be a sure try for any tourists, a good opportunity to taste unique Kerala Nasarani (Christian) food specialties
New Year Eve on Dec 31st is a major festival in many Kerala cities, as anywhere else. The highlight of New Year festival is at Kochi, with the famous Cochin Carnival and Lighting of Papanai (a tradition inherited from Portuguese). The New Year is welcomed at Kochi, by lighting a huge effigy of Santa-like figure called Papanai exactly at stroke of midnight believed to bid adieu to former year and light to welcome New Year. This is followed by a very gala party with dance and music till morning. These festivities happen in Fort Cochin. Today many clubs and hotels offer New Year Eve bash, which is also a good time to welcome New year. Many beaches, particularly Kovalam Beach in Thiruvananthapuram hosts one of the largest Beach parties in India to welcome New Year. Beware of heavily drunken locals during party time, as a few cases of attempted molest were reported during beach parties and Fort Cochin Party. However its safe, Tourist Police is being deployed in these areas and in event of such case, swift and strong action are taken.
Muslim festivals like Eid Al Fithur (popularily known in Kerala as Cheriya Perunal ) and Eid Al Adha (Valiya Perunal) is also celebrated. Its public holidays on these days and special Id Prayers are held in large grounds in morning, followed by public fest. The major celebration happens in Malabar side, particularly Kozhikode which is extremely famous for its Muslim festivals. Sweets and Malabar Special foods dominate major part of these festivities. Try enjoying the special Malabar Biriyani and other unique Malabar food (mostly Chicken and Mutton based). Also Id days are known for shopping in these regions, particularly dress and sweets. On Ramadan Fasting month, special evening bazaars are common in many Malabar cities and extremely famous for the unique Malabar snacks taken as part of breaking fast. Do try this during the Ramadan season. Try Ramadan special sweets and snacks during fast breaking time in Fort Cochin as well as Chala Bazaar in Thiruvananthapuram. Its worth to try.