The Kerala Harvest Festival of Onam is one of the most special events in the Indian state of Kerala (in the south west of India). This 10-day celebration of the harvest additionally celebrates the annual return of the spirit of the great king of King Mahabali, and takes places in August or September according to the Malayalee calendar.
The Kerala Harvest Festival is celebrated across the state, and although heavily influenced by Hindu mythology, the local Christian and Muslim populations also participate, making it a celebration of local unity and community.
Onam is known for the traditional sports and activities that are performed over the 10 days, the most famous sport being the Snake Boat races. These boats commemorate the Legend of the Vanishing Boy, and have taken on even greater significance since Prime Minister Nehru instituted a special trophy. Each boat has a crew of 150 men and the rowers are accompanied by traditional singers that help the rowers keep time.
In addition to the sporting traditions, one of the most impressive traditions in the building of the Pookalam, a dramatic decoration made of flowers that is displayed in the front courtyard of multi-family homes. Every day more flowers are added and the design becomes more intricate and detailed.
The third major tradition of Onam is the big feast know as Onasadya. The meal is traditionally served while sitting on the floor using banana leaves as plates. Be aware, that this meal is traditionally strictly vegetarian. Meat eaters, get your fix at another time!
The Onam meal traditionally consists of 11 mandatory courses, though most people serve at least 13. If that seems too much food, be appreciative that it's been reduced from the original 64 courses that were required!