High-spirited people of Kerala celebrate Onam with gaiety and fervor. The festival is celebrated for a period of ten days, starting from the first day Atham and continuing till tenth and the biggest day called Thiru Onam.
The spectacular festival attracts thousands of tourists from across the country and globe. Immense popularity of the festival is further promoted by the Government of India by celebrating Kerala Tourism Week during the time of Onam.
Celebrations of the first day are marked by intricate floral carpets called Pookalam. More flowers of different colours are added to this pookalam on each passing day. Girls take great delight in designing them in the front courtyards of their house. Boys take pleasure in helping them gather flowers. Special prayers are also said on Atham in a local temple. Hectic activities for the carnival begin in the state from this day onwards.
The biggest and the most happening day in the carnival of Onam is Thiruvonam. Festivities begin as early as 4 am. People clean up their house, take early bath, wear new clothes and perform elaborate prayers to seek divine blessings. A massive and most exquisite pookalam is prepared on this day to welcome the spirit of King Maveli.
Highpoint of the day is the enormous lunch called Onasadya. People of Kerala are extremely passionate about this. Even if they cannot easily afford, they will anyhow prepare the meal inclusive of all the 11-13 prescribed dishes. This has lead to the saying in Malayalam, "Kanam Vittu Onam Unnanam" which means, "We should have the Thiruonam lunch even if we have to sell all our properties".
There are a lot of activities that takes place all over the state on Onam. Pulikali performers paint themselves in the guise of a tiger and enact hunting scenes to entertain people. Kummattikali artists don an attire of plaited grass and big wooden mask. They move from house to house collecting small gifts and amusing children.
At Thrissur, caparisoned elephants move out in a procession and present a regal view. While at Cheruthuruthy, Kathakali artists cast a spell on the audience with the magic of their performance. Women perform their graceful traditional clap dance, Kaikotikalli on the day and enthrall the audience. Vallamkali, the popular snake boat race is also organised in several parts of the state to mark the day.
Number of sports and games events are also organised on the day. These are collectively called Onakalikal. Some of them are rigorous sports like Talappanthukali, Kutukutu and combats like Kayyankali and Attakalam. Archery is also a part of Onakalikal. Senior members have their share of fun by playing indoor games like cards and chess. There is also a tradition of swinging on Onam. A decorated swing is swung on a high branch and young men and women take the pleasure on it while singing traditional songs.