Onam Rituals and Celebrations : Onam festivities continue for ten days starting from the day 'Atham'. Atham is an auspicious day and people wake up early. 'Pookkalam' or flower carpets are made from this day onwards till Thiruvonam day. Girls in the house collect flowers and make Pookkalams every day in the morning.
'Uthradam' , the previous day of Onam is also an important day. In the olden days, the villagers and the younger people in the family used to present the 'Karnavar' or the eldest person in family with a set of gifts. Villagers present him with their harvests. This is called 'Onakazhcha'. The Karnavar gives out a grand feast to the people.
On the Thiruvonam day, all the members of the family takes bath in the morning itself and dress up in their new attires and offer prayers in the local temple. The new clothes are gifted to the people of the family by the Tharavad Karnavar. This is called 'Onapudava'.
OnaSadhya or the Grand Feast : The most important thing on the Onam day is 'OnaSadhya' or the grand feast. There will be many traditional Kerala dishes served on the plantain leaf. All the family members sit together to have the feast. In front of the lighted lamp, a plantain leaf is placed with all the dishes and rice served on it for the King Mahabali, who comes to visit his people. A lot of hardwork and preparations are needed to make a good OnaSadhya.
Onakkalikal or Onam Games : After the Sadhya, all the people gather and indulge in recreational activities. Men indulge in games like 'Pulikali', 'Kuthu Kuthu' (Kerala version of Kabaddi), and archery. Women performs dances like 'Thiruvathirakali' or 'Kai Kottikali'. 'Thumbi Thullal' is another traditional game among Keralites during Onam. There are 'Vallom Kali' or the Boat races also during Onam.
Aranmula Uthrittathi Vallom Kali : Aranmula Uthrittathi Vallom Kali or Boat Race is another important boat race in Kerala. This is associated with Onam festival. It is meant to relive mythology that narrates a story of Lord Krishna crossing the Pamba river on that particular day.
Onam Songs : There are many songs related to Onam festival. These are a rich collection of Malayali folk and traditional songs. One of the songs tells about the good times of Kerala during the reign of Mahabali. The song goes on as follows:
Maveli Nadu Vaneedum Kaalam, Manusharellarum onnu pole,
Amothathode Vasikkum Kalam, Apathennarkkum Ottillathanum,
Kallavumilla Chathiyumilla, Ellolamilla Polivachanam,
Kallamparayum perunazhiyum, Kallatharangal Mattonnumilla.
The meaning of the song is that, during the reign of King Mahabali, all the people were considered equal. All were living with great happiness. No one had any threats, challenges or danger to life. There were no falsehood or fraud. No one cheated others during those times. People never lied. There were no wrong measuring equipments and weights. No one cheats or wrongs the neighbour.
There were other songs related to Onam. There are Boat race songs or 'Vanchippattu', sung during boat races. Oonjal or Swing Songs are traditional songs (Onappaattu) sung during swinging ('Oonjalattam'). 'Thumbi Thullal Songs' are also famous.
Onam is celebrated not only by Hindus but also by all other religions. Onam is a festival that unites people of Kerala.