The festival season, the pride and joy of Kerala, is epitomised by the ferocious beats of the chenda (drums) emanating across the landscape. Elephants march across towns and the rivers surge with massive 100 feet long snake boats in a display that can only be experienced in an area renowned as God's Own Country. The entire State celebrates together as the land is covered in a plethora of lights and merriment.
Our festivals celebrate the traditions passed down by our ancestors. Be it Onam, Eid or Christmas, all of Kerala rejoices with one spirit to bring the entire coastal State to life. From seeing mystical figures come to life during Theyyam performances to strolling across various churches and mosques where the lights and displays are at their best during perunnals and memorials, every nook and cranny of our State has something to offer to each traveller.
Onam is the State festival which is celebrated by every household across the land. According to mythology, Mahabali was an Asura (demon) king who brought about peace and prosperity in the land. He makes his yearly rounds to check on his loyal subjects during the harvest festival of Onam. Malayalis invite him into their houses with aplomb to celebrate his homecoming and show him that the prosperity and contentment of his reign continues even to this day. Onasadya or vegetarian feasts with up to 60 separate dishes that are served are a highlight of this festival.
From religious occasions to festivals for specific deities, Kerala is home to a great heritage of festivals. The festivals of Kerala personify the very spirit and essence of the land and these experiences will be forever etched in your heart.
Onam is the national festival of Kerala. On the Thiruvonam day every one bathes and offers worship in temples early in the morning. Then the gayest new garments are put on. Presents are distributed to the younger members of the family. Then follows the onam feast of delicious food served on plantain leaves. Members of families, staying far away from native places make it a point to visit their ancestral homes to celebrate the festival in the company of their kith and kin. Keralites celebrate onam by organising community feast, cultural programmes, etc.
Among the various Hindu festivals in Kerala, Vishu occupies a unique position in more than one respect. As symbol of the unostentatious Malayali, Vishu is free from the usual pomp and show and merry-making associated with other festivities. When almost all the festivals are connected in some way or other with religion, Vishu has nothing to do with it, though it is observed with religious solemnity. The first day for Medam is the unchangeable day of Vishu, whereas other festivals are determined according to the lunar asterisms on which they fall.
The Navarthri is celebrated all over India. In some places it is called Dussera, in some other places `Kalipuja' or `Saraswathi Puja' and in still others, `Ayudha Puja'. During Navarathri days the Divine Mother is worshipped in one or the other of her different manifestations namely Durga, Saraswathi, Kali, etc. The Puja in connection with Navarathri is known as Bhuvaneswari puja, which means, the worship of `Universal Mother'.
Deepavali, the festival of lights, is held throughout India. It falls on the preceding day of the New Moon in the Malayalam month Thulam (October-November). It is celebrated in commemoration of the destruction of the demon called Narakasura by Lord Krishna. As Lord Krishna killed Narakasura on the Chaturdasi day (the fourteenth lunar day) it is also known as Narakachaturdasi.
The word Mahasivarathri means `the great night of Siva'. According to the Sivapurana, it falls on the Krishna Chathurdasi day, which is on the fourteenth day during the warning of the moon in the month of Megha, though in some years it may occur in Phalguna also. In Kerala the month of Kumbham is noted for the Sivarathri festival, which falls in February -March. The festival is said to commemorate the day on which Siva protected the world from a total annihilation either by drinking the deadly Kaalakoodum poison which was held up in his neck, or by effecting a healthy compromise between Brahma, the Creator and Vishnu, the Protector.
Christmas celebrated to honour the glory of the birth of on 25th December, is the most significant and spectacular of Christian festivals. No other celebration is so enriched with so many customs and ceremonies. There is an array of spectacles like Christmas Star, Christmas tree, the Crib, Christmas cake, Christmas presents and the Christmas Father.
Easter is celebrated in Kerala along with the world in memory of the resurrection of Christ. The Central tenet of Christianity is not the birth of Jesus, but his resurrection. Easter derived from this paschal mystery and from the events of Good Friday.
Mohammed, the Prophet of Islam, was born on the 20 April 571 AD. Muslims all over the world celebrate the birth of the Prophet in various ways. In Kerala the practice of the celebration of the Prophet's birthday is of recent origin. Reading what is commonly known as the 'Maulod' which is a short biography of the Prophet written both in verse and prose in the Arabic language has been the common ritual of the day. Of late in Kerala, there has developed another practice connected with the Miladi Sherif. Night lectures are organised during the first twelve days of the month when Muslim Ulemas through their discourses enlighten the people on the various aspects of the life of the Prophet. Thus through the celebrations connected with the Miladi Sherif, the Muslim masses get an opportunity to be enlightened on the life and teachings of the Prophet.
Muharram, the forbidden month, is the opening month of the Hejira year. The 10th day of the month is celebrated by the Sunnies as well as the Shias all over the world. It was on this day that God is believed to have created Adam and Eve and that the Pharoah of Egypt and his countrymen were drowned in the Red Sea by the will of the Almighty. Again it was on this day that the most lamentable carnage at Kerbala took place in 680 AD when Imman Hussain, the grandson of the Prophet and his men met with their end in an agonising manner. On this day the Jews observe fast. The Prophet enjoined on the Muslims to observe fast on the ninth and tenth of Muharram. It was to commemorate the victory of the Jews over Pharoah that fasting was enjoined upon Muslims on these days. For the Shia Muslims, Muharram is an important occasion for religious ceremony. The Sunni Muslims do not celebrate Muharram, but the devout Muslims among them observe fast.
Idul-Fitr, of late known by the misnomer `Ramadan' is one of the two festivals of Islam. Ramadan is the ninth month of the lunar year. During this month the Muslims Observe fast, giving up all kinds of food and drinks during day time, and spend the major part of the night in devotion and prayer. Purification of the body and soul is the main aim of this observance.
Bakrid, to be rightly called Idul-Azha or the festival of sacrifice, is the second of the two festivals of Islam. Muslims observe this festival all over the world. It falls on the 10th of Dhul-Hagg, the last month of the lunar year. It is celebrated in commemoration of Abraham's willingness to offer his only son as a sacrifice at God's command.