Onam 2021: Date, significance, all you need to know about the Harvest festival

By | Edited by Krishna Priya Pallavi, Delhi
Aug 12, 2021 04:08 PM IST

Onam 2021: Here's the date, significance, and all you need to know about Onam, the Harvest festival of Kerala. This year, the festival falls on August 21.

Onam Atham 2021: Celebrated by the people of Kerala, Onam is one of the most popular festivals in the state. It is celebrated each year between August and September. Also referred to as Thiru-Onam or Thiruvonam, Onam is a major harvest festival. This year, the festival falls on August 21. However, the festivities starting from today, August 12, will go on till September 23.

Onam 2021: Date, significance, all you need to know about the Harvest festival(Vivek R. Nair / Hindustan Times)
Onam 2021: Date, significance, all you need to know about the Harvest festival(Vivek R. Nair / Hindustan Times)


Onam falls in the month of Chingam, marked during August-September, as per the Gregorian calendar. It is celebrated to honour the kind-hearted and much-beloved demon King Mahabali, who is believed to return to Kerala during this festival.

The Vaishnava mythology says that King Mahabali, from the Asura tribe, defeated the Gods and began ruling over all three worlds. The kind-hearted ruler was loved by his people. However, the Gods were insecure. They asked Lord Vishnu to step in and control Mahabali.

ALSO READ: Photos: 12 dishes in Onam Sadhya feast that you need to try

Lord Vishnu took on his fifth avatar, Brahmin dwarf Vamana, and paid a visit to King Mahabali. When Mahabali asked Vamana what he wished for, he responded, "three pieces of land". When Vamana was granted his wish, he grew in size and in his first and second pace respectively, he covered the sky, and then the netherworld. When he was about to take his third pace, Mahabali offered his head. This act impressed Vishnu and he granted Mahabali the right to visit his kingdom during Onam.

The 10-day festival

Each day of Onam has its own name, significance, and activities, which people do to enjoy this festival. There are also a few post-Onam celebrations that continue even after ten days. Here is all you need to know about each day of the 10-day Onam festival.


On the first day of Onam, people commence the celebrations by decorating their homes with yellow flowers, known as Pookalam. These flowers grow in size with each passing day of the festival as a new layer is added. The decorations are done to welcome the spirit of King Mahabali, in whose honour Onam is celebrated.


Chithira is the second day of the festival. On this day, devotees do a customary cleaning of the entire house, and another layer of flowers is added to the Pookalam. This is the most auspicious day for the purchase of fresh vegetables and fruits along with other provisions.


On the 3rd day of the festival, people get together to celebrate the auspicious occasion and buy gifts, such as new clothes, known as Onakodi, and jewellery, for each other.


On the fourth day, considered the most auspicious day of the festival, the preparations for the Onam Sadhya begins. Although the number of dishes varies from family to family, most of them make 26 delicacies.


On the fifth day, the snake boats get ready to race in Aranmula Uthrattathi Vallamkali, the oldest river boat festival in Kerala. This day is the most important day of the Onam celebration as Vallamkali, the snake boat race begins.


By the sixth day, the Pookalam gets very large with at least five to six flowers added to the original design. Festivities begin in full swing as people get holidays from their work, children get offs from their school to celebrate Onam.


On the seventh day, families visit each other, and temples start serving special Sadhyas. Several places also enjoy performances of Puli Kali (Masked leopard dance) and traditional dance forms like Kaikottikali. The state is also decorated from the seventh day.


On this day, small statues of Mahabali and Vamana are taken around the house and put in the centre of the Pookalam.


It is believed that on the ninth day, King Mahabali reaches the state. It is considered the most auspicious day and people buy fresh vegetables and start cooking traditional meals.


Thiruvonam is the final day of the Onam festival. People clean their houses, apply rice flour batter on the main entrance, take an early bath, wear new clothes and enjoy Onam Sadhya feasts. People also indulge in various games and activities to celebrate the festival. The eldest female member of the family also presents new clothes to other members.

The traditional feast

It includes Kalan (sweet potato and yam coconut curry dish), Olan (white gourd prepared in coconut curry), Avial (seasonal vegetables in coconut curry), Kootu curry (a dish made of chickpeas), rasam (a soup-like dish made with a base of tomato and pepper, eaten with rice and other preparations) and the much-loved dessert, Parippu payasam (a rice kheer preparation).

This year, however, owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, people will celebrate Onam within their homes.

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