11 Photos that Capture the Splendor of Kerala's Onam Festival

South Indian family standing near rangoli of flowers during Onam
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    The Start of Onam

    Thripunithura Athachamayam
    ••• Ranjith shenoy R/Flickr/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

    Onam is the biggest festival of the year in India's southern state of Kerala. Much of the state's culture is showcased during Onam festivities. These Kerala Onam pictures reveal the color and splendor of the celebrations.

    Celebrations start with the Thripunithura Athachamayam festival on Atham (10 days before Onam) in Thripunithura, near Ernakulam in Kochi. In earlier times, the festival was celebrated in commemoration of the King of Kochi. He marched from Tripunithura to the Vamanamoorthy Temple in Thrikkakara (also known as Thrikkakara Temple). The era of royalty had ended but the festival is still celebrated with all its glory to mark the beginning of Onam. It includes a street parade accompanied by decorated elephants and floats, musicians, and various traditional Kerala art forms.

    Read More: 6 Onam Festival Attractions

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    Onam Drummers

    Onam drumming.
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    Enthusiastic drummers play during Onam celebrations. Traditional drumming is an integral part of festivals in Kerala.

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    Onam Flower Market

    Onam flower market, Kerala.
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    Flowers for sale at street market on the eve of the Onam festival. These flowers will be used to make pookalams (floral carpets).

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    Making a Pookalam for Onam

    ••• Making an Onam pookalam. Balan Madhavan\Getty Images.

    Decorative pookalams (floral carpets) are a highlight of Onam festival celebrations and the most prominent ritual. The creating of pookalams traditionally starts on Atham, and a new ring of flowers is added each day up until the main day of Onam. Contests for making the best pookalams are also held across Kerala during the festival.

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    Decorating the Entrance to Homes

    Onam in Kerala.
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    The Onam pookalams are placed at the entrance to homes to welcome mythical Onam King Mahabali and seek his blessings for prosperity.

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    Lighting Lamps During Onam

    Lighting a lamp for Onam.
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    Lamps are also lit to invite King Mahabali into homes. A lamp will typically be placed at the center of every pookalam.

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    Onam Thiruvathira Kali Folk Dance

    "Thiruvathira" from the Onam celebrations
    ••• S y a m S u b r a m a n i a n/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

    Thiruvathira Kali is a popular folk dance performed by women during Onam. They clap and co-ordinate their hand movements in unison, while gracefully moving in circles and singing. According to legend, Thiruvathira Kali brought the deity of love, Kamadeva, back to life after Lord Shiva reduced him to ashes. Others say Thiruvathira Kali commemorates Lord Shiva taking Goddess Parvati as his wife.

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    Onasadya Feast

    ••• Onam festival feast in Kerala. SS's Glass-light-hues Photography /Getty Images

    Onasadya is the grand feast that's served during Onam celebrations in Kerala. It's prepared on the main day of Onam, and dished up on a Banana leaf. Extremely elaborate in nature, it consists of numerous types of vegetarian dishes. A typical Onasadya feast has 11 to 13 different dishes, all consumed in a particular order.

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    Onam Snake Boat Race

    Kerala snake boat race
    ••• Keren Su/Getty Images

    The most famous snake boat race that's held during Onam celebrations is the Aranmula carnival, along the Pampa River. Find out more about the Aranmula carnival and snake boat races in Kerala.

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    Onam Pulikalli

    Onam tiger play.
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    Men dressed up as tigers for Onam. The ancient tradition of Pulikalli tiger play is a curious practice indeed. Find out more about Pulikalli, including its meaning and where to see it.

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    Shinkari Melam Performance During Onam

    Sinkari Melam chinkarimelam performers with chenda and cymbals during onam celebration
    ••• Dinodia Photo/Getty Images

    Shinkari Melam is a classical music performance using traditional instruments in Kerala. Here, the musicians are performing with cymbals and the chenda, a cylindrical percussion instrument that's used widely in south Indian states. The chenda is used as an  accompaniment for religious art forms and dance rituals in Kerala, including Pulikalli tiger play.