Onam is the biggest festival in the Indian state of Kerala. Onam Festival falls during the Malayali month of Chingam (Aug - Sep) and marks the homecoming of legendary King Mahabali. Carnival of Onam lasts for ten days and brings out the best of Kerala culture and tradition. Intricately decorated Pookalam, ambrosial Onasadya, breathtaking Snake Boat Race and exotic Kaikottikali dance are some of the most remarkable features of Onam - the harvest festival in Kerala.
A sketch of Maveli and Onapookalam
There is a rich collection of Malayalese folk and traditional songs to be sung during the grand carnival of Onam. These Onam songs are collectively called Onappaattu. The songs are being religiously carried forward from one generation to other as people take great delight in singing them.
Music loving people of Kerala have created songs for every major event of the festival. Onappattu help to add colour to Onam. It is a treat for eyes and ears to watch young men and women, sing melodious songs dressed in their traditional attire.
Onam Songs in Praise of King Mahabali
As Onam is celebrated to welcome the spirit of legendary King Mahabali, most of Onam songs are centred around him. Traditional folk songs extol the reign of King Maveli when everyone was happy and prosperous. On the last and the main day of Onam, Thiru Onam, special Onam songs are sing in praise of King Mahabali. It is believed that the spirit of King Mahabali visits the state of Kerala on this day. English version of an extremely popular song says, "Long live Maveli, the bringer of peace and happiness."
A scintillating Onam song sung by maidens, usually during the
performance of Kaikottikkali celebrates the golden period witnessed
in the reign of benevolent King Mahabali.
"Maveli Nadu Vaneedum Kalam
Manusharellarum onnu pole…"
English translation of this beautiful Onam song:
' When Maveli, our King, rules the land,
All the peoples form one casteless race.
And people live joyful and merry;
They are free from all harm.
There is neither theft nor deceit,
And no one is false in speech either.
Measures and weights are right;
No one cheats or wrongs the neighbor.
when Maveli, our King, rules the land,
All the peoples form one casteless race.'
Vanchipattu or Boat Songs
Apart from songs related to Mahabali, several other types of songs are also sung on Onam. Most cherished of them all are the Boat songs, collectively called, Vanchipattu. These songs hold all the more importance in Onam festivities as Snake Boat Race or Vallamkali is an integral part of the festival. There is a good arrangement of music in the large and decorated boats called chundan vallams. Seven drums are carried in the boat and also a good number of singers. Singers and musicians sit in the centre of the boat. They help to boost the confidence of the oarsmen and encourage them to row fast. Boatmen row the boat in the rhythm of Vanchipattu presenting a lyrical extravaganza for the thousands of onlookers. A very famous song sung by boatmen is 'Kuchelavritham Vanchipattu'. It is a devotional song written by Ramapurathu Warrier.
Oonjal or Swing Songs
Swing or Oonjal is another important part of Onam festivities and there are a large number of folk songs dedicated to this particular tradition. Boys and girls dress themselves in their tradition attire for the occasion. They sing traditional songs (Onappaattu) while doing Oonjalattom (swinging). The swing is hung from high branches and decorated with flowers, presenting a memorable sight and experience.
Some devotional songs are also sung during the carnival of Onam. Lyrics of a famous devotional Onam song goes like:
"Mulla mallike nalla malathi malla lochane undo kandu?"
The song beautifully describes the pain and agony of 'Gopis' who are searching for Lord Krishna. They are not able to find the Lord in their midst in Vrindavan. In their shock and bewilderment they are inquiring the whereabouts of their beloved from each flower and plant they pass by.
Thumbi Thullal Song
"Onnam thumbiyum oru pattam makkalum
koode para para thumbi thullu...
thumbi erumballa, chemballa, odalla...
thumbicku orumani ponmaala.. "
"Entha thumbi... thullathe.. poovu poranjo, pookudam poranjo ?
entha thumbi thullathe ? "
- randam thumbiyum oru pattam makkalum...