Kerala is considered as land of festivals, with numerous festivals falling across the year. The State has numerous holidays due to Festivals.
Onam is the most biggest festival in Kerala. It is the National Festival of Kerala with State holidays on 4 days starting from Onam Eve (Uthardom) to the 4rd Onam Day. Its also one of the most secular festival. Onam Festival falls during the Malayalam month of Chingam (Aug - Sep) and marks the homecoming of mythical King Mahabali who Malayalees consider as their King. Onam is a reminiscent of Kerala's agrarian past, as its considered to be harvest festival.
Onam festivities last for ten days and brings out the best of Kerala culture and tradition. Intricately decorated Pookalam (floral carpets), the mammoth Onasadya (the festival feast), breathtaking Snake Boat Race and the exotic Kaikottikali dance are some of the most remarkable features of Onam, Kerala's harvest festival. Though the festive mood is spread everywhere in Kerala, the focal point of Onam celebrations happens in Kochi. The 10 day festival starts off with Aathachamayam (The Royal Parade on Aatham Day) in Thripunithara (a suburb of Kochi City). The Parade is extremely colour and depicts all the elements of Kerala culture with more than 50 floats and 100 tableaux. The main center of festival is at Thrikakkara temple within Kochi City, believed to be the ancient capital of King Mahabali. The Temple festival also marks the start of Onam
The festival is celebrated in memory of the mythical King Mahabali and his reign, during which perfect harmony and prosperity prevailed. The King Mahabali's popularity was at its height and led to the envy of the Gods. This golden age ended when Vamana, the dwarf incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu, expelled him from his throne to the netherworld. On account of his virtue, Mahabali was allowed to visit his subjects once a year, during Onam. Though the myth behind Onam is a Hindu tradition, the festival is equally celebrated in all its zest and glitz by all communities like Christians, Muslims etc. There are special Masses for Onam day in churches and get-together among Muslim families
Onam today is considered to the biggest Shopping festival in urban areas, particularly Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram, Kozhikode etc. Most of the shops give Mega discounts and special promotions happen for White goods as well as electronic items, making an ideal time for shopping. Dress and fabrics get a special attention during this season and make any shoppers crazy to shop with they die with fatigue. Onam's Eve called as Uthradom is the biggest day for shopping, when its a day for heavy rush for final Onam Shopping, thus calling it as Uthradom Pachil (Uthradom Rush) in almost every part of the state.
Onam day (Thiruvonam) is a silent day, with most of the festivities limiting to homes. In major metros, Onam Special Sadhya (Onam Buffet) are arranged in almost all hotels. Onam feast is the largest of all Feasts in Kerala where minimum 25 to 30 Curries and 4 to 5 Desserts are served. Normally Onam is a pure Veg festival and people of all religions do adopt Veg Foods on Thiruvonam day considering its traditional Hindu origin. However in Malabar side, its complusory to have Non-Veg along with Onam Sadhya. Onam evening is marked with village games and cultural programs, mainly limited to rural areas. Thiruvanathapuram city has the biggest official celebrations with 10 day and night long dance, music and various events along with heavy illumination and fireworks. Recently official celebrations are extended to Kochi and Kozhikode, though not of the scale as in Thiruvanathapuram. However many private functions and events mark on these Onam Days
The second most important festival in Kerala is Vishu. Vishu falls on Malayalam Month of Medam 1st (normally 14th or 15th or 16th day of April). Its considered as Astronomic New Year, as its the day when Sun enters into Tropic of Cancer. Its considered to be the most auspicious day to start anything new. Though it doesn't have as much as glitz that Onam has, still Vishu is an important day in Kerala, more famous for its Vishu Sadhya (Vishu Feast), Kainettam (First Gift by elders to young on start of New Year) and ofcourse shopping, due Vishu's legend of getting new on this day.
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
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. However Public drinking and Consuming food openly during Ramadan season in Malabar side is frowned upon. Take extra caution that majority of restaurants donot open till Sunset in Malabar region. However in South Regions, its not as stringent as in Malabar side. Try Ramadan special sweets and snacks during fast breaking time in Fort Cochin as well as Chala Bazaar in Thiruvananthapuram. Its worth to try.
Kerala's festivals gained more fame, thro' its Temple festivals. Most of the temples do have an Annual festival starting from November end to Mid of May, which varies according to each temple's annual calendar. Most of the temple festivals is celebrated as part of temple's anniversary or presiding deity's birthday or any other major event associated with the temple. Kerala's temple festivals are very interesting to see, with regular procession of decorated elephants, temple orchestra and other festivities. Most of the temples do have 9 days of festivals and normally on 8th night, its marked with heavy fireworks and special orchestration of temple orchestra and parade of normally 3 to 9 decorated elephants
The most famous temple festival, that one should not miss is Thrissur Pooram at city of Thrissur happening between last week of April- mid of May. Thrissur Pooram is called Festivals of Festivals, marking the biggest and most gala temple festival. Its actually a competition of festivities between two temples and nearly parades of 30 to 50 decorated elephants along with huge temple orchestration normally associated by 150 to 200 musicians happen, making it a visual treat. Apart from that, heavy temple decors and special lighting will be erected across the city and the most famous part is its heavy fireworks which is normally considered as one of the world's longest fireworks. The fireworks display is also a competition between two temples and goes on for more than 4 to 5 hours, till early morning. The most interesting fact, none of the fireworks are made using help of any computer technology or other electronic gadgets and all are still fired using the traditional means of lighting by hand, which makes it more special, unlike other major fireworks in other global cities. This is an most important festival and worth to see atleast once in a lifetime. A word of caution:- the festival is graced by more than 300,000 people across the state and it will be extremely heavy rush in the city on the festival day. Prior booking in hotels as well as on terrace tops is necessary to view the amazing fireworks and parade.
Another major festivals, worth for a watch is Navarathiri during Sept-Oct time as well as Sree Padmanabha's Arattu held twice in a Year. Both are celebrated in Thiruvananthapuram and its focal point is at Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple. Navarathiri is considered to be a major festival across India and in Kerala its related to worship of Goddess Saraswathi (Goddess of Learning and Knowledge). In Thiruvananthapuram, Navarathiri season is marked with Parade of Kerala Police from the city to nearby Sree Padmanabhapuram Palace in Nagerkovil district of Tamil Nadu to bring the Royal Idols of Goddess (Goddess Durga is the family god of Travancore Royal family and these are still the continuation of Royal tradition as practiced in Travancore Kingdom). With the Parade of Armed Police, Mounted Police Battalions, Palace Guards, Members of Royal Family, the idols are brought to Thiruvanathapuram city and placed in Ramanar Palace near to Sree Padmanabha temple for the nine nights. The Nine nights are then marked with special musical programs, particularly the famous Classical music festival, which is worth to listen and enjoy
The Sree Padmanbha's Arattu
The Sree Padmanbha's Arattu is again a Royal Procession of Lord Sree Padmanabha, the presiding deity of the Temple, happening twice in a year. As Lord Sree Padmanabha was the National Deity of the Travancore Kingdom who adored the title of Emperor of the Erstwhile Kingdom, the procession is considered one of the last legacy of royal heritage, with Kerala Police, Indian Army, Air force making its obligation to the Lord. This was part of the British tradition, when Royal Indian Army, Royal Air Force and Royal Navy saluted the lord with 21 gun salute, which is still carried today. The procession is considered to the biggest in the city with the Maharaja of Travancore taking the lead in the procession with a Golden sword followed by members of Palace Guards, Kerala Armed police, Sree Padmanabha's Mounted Guards and Royal Elephants, taking the idols of Lords as a parade throughout the city, to the nearby seashore at Shanumugham Beach for a bath. The time of Arattu is a public holiday in the Thiruvananthapuram city and during the bathing time at Sea shore in Shangumugham beach, no aircraft are allowed to fly over as the Trivandrum Airport is nearby, as a respect to lord. This happens twice in a year one during Nov-Dec time and another during Mar-Apr time Also once in 12 years, the biggest festival at Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple happens, which marks lighting of 100,000 oil lamps, which is world record event, called Lakshamdeepam.