Onam is an annual Indian harvest festival celebrated mainly in Kerala and includes a spectrum of cultural events.
Its celebrated in Kerala in remembrance of the good governance under the rule of daitya king Mahabali, a mythical king who once ruled Kerala. The legend holds that jealous of Mahabali's popularity and his power, the devas and gods conspired to end his reign. They sent Vamana to earth in the form of a dwarf Brahmin who trampled Mahabali to patala (netherworld). Vamana asked Mahabali for three feet of land. Since denying gifts to Brahmin is considered a sacrilege, Mahabali agreed to fulfill Vamana’s wish. In the first two feet Vamana measured the entirety of the universe, leaving nowhere to place his third foot. Mahabali offered his own head to place his third feet making the wish complete. However, witnessing Mahabali’s generosity, Vishnu granted the king's sole wish to visit his land and people once every year. This homecoming of Mahabali is celebrated as Onam in Kerala every year.
The term kasavu refers to the zari (gold thread) used in the border of the Kerala saree. The name comes from a material used in the weaving and production of these sarees. When the kasavu gets added to a mundu (dhoti), it’s called a kasavu mundu. It is worn by both women and men, especially during festivals, dances, and special occasions such as weddings and piranna naal (birthdays). During the Vishu festival, it is customary to place a brand new kasavu cloth near the traditional Vishukkani (lamp) as a symbol of wealth and prosperity.
The origin of the kasavu saree can be traced back to various centuries where women would wear a two-piece cloth called ‘settu mundu’, more popularly known as ‘mundum neriyathum’ with natural body color and breathtaking border shades which exactly looks similar to a normal saree.
The Mundum Neriyathum rose in popularity during the Buddhist era, and its design has been inspired by the Greco-Roman attire, Palmyrene, a long piece of unstitched cloth with a coloured border.
Traditional attires like sarees, mundus, and settu mundus are generally called kaithari which means handloom. The identity of the saree comes from the geographical cluster they are associated with. The Indian government has identified three clusters in Kerala -Balaramapuram, Chendamangalam and Kuthampully - that have been given a Geographical Indication (GI) tag. All three clusters produce kasavu sarees.
The handloom industry in Kannur district dates back to the 16th century, although it became popular only in the 19th century. The Mundum Neriyathum is likely to have been introduced in Kerala under the reign of His Highness Maharaja Balaramavarma and his chief minister Ummini Thampi in the early 19th century. A research paper called ‘Study & Documentation of Balaramapuram Sarees & Fine Cotton fabrics: The Pride of God’s Own Country’ notes that “Balaramapuram, in Thiruvananthapuram district, is one of the most historically important places for fine cotton handloom fabrics in Kerala. The weavers belonging to the Saliya community migrated from Nagarcoil and Thirunelveli of the present Tamil Nadu. They produced superfine ‘Mundum Neriyathum’ for the need of the Travancore royal family.”
“The technique of producing the superfine fabric spread from them to the local weavers in Balaramapuram and the surrounding places of the Thiruvananthapuram district.”
People wear traditional white and gold sarees to symbolize Purity and offer them to Lord Vishnu’s vamana avatar.
The cultural events in Onam are:
2. Pookkalam (Flower Rangoli)
3. Music & Dance
4. Pulikali (Tiger Dance)
5. Vallamkali (Boat Race)
6. Onam Sadya
Sadya is the traditional nine or more course vegetarian meal served on banana leaves.