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Onam – ‘The spirit of Kerala’ !


From glooms to cheerfulness, from shoe-string budget constraints to prosperity, from the dullness of heavy rains to the freshening radiance of gentle sun rays, … that Onam to Keralites – arguably the chief festival of what’s dubbed as the God’s Own Country, Kerala.

Kerala tour packages

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Kerala tours

Kerala’s most celebrated festival occasion ‘Onam’ is the hallmark of a new calendar year. ie., Chingam 1st which marks the beginning of the New Year in the Malayalam calendar, called as  ‘Kolla Varsham’. Chingam, which follows the last month of Malayalam year ‘Karkidakam’, offers a sharp contrast from its predecessor in terms of climate and lifestyle. Karkidakam is the month of monsoon characterized by heavy lashes of downpour plus subsequent diseases where people have to take various means to improve their frequently ailing health condition and, due to this month’s volatile nature people won’t conduct any important or joyful occasions such as marriages, new house warming, …  whereas Chingam is a new dawn of cheer & good times for Keralites. This is the time of harvests, plentiful special occasions like marriages and, above all the celebration time of Onam!
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Onam for Kerala is not just a mere festive occasion, more than that it symbolizes the spirit of Kerala’s vibrant culture & legacy. This festival is celebrated by all – people from all wakes of life and each & every religions here – for Keralites this is the testimony of their brotherhood & pride! Origin of Onam is in fact timeless. Few interesting legends are associated with the beginning of Onam, of which the most prominent one is connected with ‘Mahabali’ ancient King of Kerala.
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A demon King who held sway in not only Kerala but all the mythical three worlds namely Heaven of gods, Earth of humans, and the Netherworld. His rule was regarded as the best in every respect which is yet to be surpassed by any known ruler! Ballads describe Mahabali’s rule as the one where people lived in utmost prosperity, happiness & joy prevailed everywhere, and the word ‘crime’ was virtually unheard / unknown. Without doubt, an ear that is beyond compare with the present governing system!!!
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It is believed that Gods grew anxious about the expanding prowess & fame of Mahabali that they sought the help of Lord Vishnu (the preserver god in Hinduism’s holy trinity) to oust Mahabali. Lord Vishnu took the form of a Brahmin kid ‘Vamana’, went to meet Mahabali and requested him 3 footages of land as alms. King Mahabali, known for his virtuous of keeping promises, agreed to do so. Instantly Vamana assumed a gigantic form. He measured Heaven with one footstep and Earth with another step. With Vamana’s third step looming large & the destruction of the King’s subjects almost a certain, Mahabali voluntarily offered his head to rest that third step so that the kingdom & subjects will be saved. Vamana’s feet pushed Mahabali to Netherworld. However, impressed by the King’s care towards his subjects, Vamana (Lord Vishnu) granted Mahabali a boon that he can visit his people once in every year. That occasion came to be known as Onam.
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Onam festival occasion begins with the Malayalam calendar day ‘Atham’ (usually falls in mid August to early September every year), followed by ten days with a grand fiesta on ‘Thiru Onam’ day. ‘Atham’ is welcomed by Keralites with a colourful procession called as ‘Athachamayam’, a procession with richly decorated sets that depict mythological events. The procession in central Kerala’s Tripunithura town (former capital of Cochin State) is a particularly famous crowd puller.
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From Atham onwards every home in Kerala gets ready to greet their beloved King by decorating their house’s threshold with artistic flower patterns (known as ‘Pookalam’). From Atham to Thiru Onam; every day a new pattern of Pookalam will be prepared in homes – to mark the significance of each Onam day.
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The grandest celebration takes off on Thiru Onam day. Besides the decorated Pookalam & clay-made representation of Mahabali, all household will wear new cloths – a custom that signifies the triumph of good times over troubled times, prosperity over hardship, plus the token of welcome of their beloved King. Women get busy to prepare the traditional Kerala feast ‘Onam Sadya’ – a lavish feast where rice with wide variety of vegetarian dishes is served on a banana leaf. Some standouts of this Onam feast are Upperi, Sharkara Varatti (banana fried chips & fried banana coated with sugar) and Payasam (a delicious nectar-like dish).
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To add up the celebrations of Mahabali’s return & good times, women in Kerala households perform the dance from ‘Thiruvathira Kali’ / ‘Kaikotti Kali’ – a group of seven or eight ladies, wearing customary Kerala dress, encircle a lighted lamp and perform uniform rhythmic dance movements with clapping of hands.
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On the other hand Male folks also form friend circles and celebrate Onam their own with games like ‘Puli kali’ (performing Tiger-like pranks), ‘Sayippum Kaduvayum’ (Hunter and Tiger / Leopard showdown), etc.
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Onam occasion is celebration time in every aspect with most of the reputed Snake Boat Races of Kerala such as ‘Payippad Boat Race’, ‘Aranmula Boat Race’, ‘Chambakkulam Boat Race’, also take place in the days that follow Thiru Onam.
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Earlier years were filled with so many local-styled entertaining games & activities during Onam holidays. But as modernity and nuclear family concept have taken their toll, much of the good old Onam games & activities are confined to Television channels’ studio sets and cultural stages. Whatever it is, the legacy of Onam always prevails and it continues as a driving force of Kerala’s unity & integrity – most certainly forever.

Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple – Richness of royal legacy!


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Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple, the most celebrated and legendary Temple in Kerala’s state capital
, is Thiruvananthapuram nowadays  constantly hitting the headlines of national & international newspapers & media alike on account of the vast treasures discovered in its secret chambers. As countless debates continue about the treasure values (estimated to be in many billion-dollars) and the temple being the richest in not only India but all over the world, an insight into this sacred shrine’s flashback unearths the time-tested unshaken bond between a bygone royal dynasty and their state shrine.

Looking Back…

Regarded as one among the holiest 108 Vaishnava Thirupa (sacred abodes of Lord Vishnu) in India, the exact age of Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple is still debated. This temple is mentioned in several ancient Hindu ‘puranas’ (epics) though officially recorded facts dated back to 7th / 8th centuries. Legends states, Anantha Padmanabha – the deity of this Temple – was originally at the Anantha Padmanabha Lake Temple in Kasargod
district, North Kerala. A tryst with an ardent devotee, Sage Vilwamangalam, saw the Lord shifting his base to the Southern zone.

The present Temple was built in the forested land Ananthan-kadu. In due course of time the city was known by the Temple’s name – ‘Thiru Anantha Puram’ meaning the ‘Land of Sree Anantha Padmanabhaswamy’. It was the chief shrine of then-dynasty Aayi Kings, predecessors of Venad Kings. Before the Venad rulers gained foothold the Temple was under ‘Ettera-yogam’ – Association of Ettu Veettil Pillamaar, a powerful group of 8 feudal lords that held sway over Venad in 15th – 16th centuries. With the local feudal lords at one end and emerging European trading powers at the other, the domestic situation was in turmoil and it was left over to Anizham Thirunal Marthanda Varma the then- crown-prince to bring the situation under Kerala control. His accession to the throne was an eventful chapter in
History which saw the annihilation of feudal powers and checking of colonial traders’ advances in the South.

Widely considered as the valiant & powerful King of his generation, Marthanda Varma had high regards for Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple. During his reign (1729-58) he conquered neighboring provinces and turned the tiny Venad into a powerful Kingdom of Travancore. After firmly establishing his Kingdom, Marthanda Varma reconstructed & enlarged Padmanabhaswamy Temple and, performed the exemplary act of ‘Thrippadi danam’ – dedicating his Kingdom & wealth to the Lord and rule on behalf of the Lord’s will – to Sree Padmanabha in 1750 AD. Thereafter, Travancore Kingdom was regarded as the sole property of Lord Padmanabhaswamy and the King became Padmanabha-dasa alias ‘In service of Lord Sree Padmanabha’.

Marthanda Varma and his succeeding Travancore Kings considered their assets as offerings to Lord Padmanabha. Even the small kingdoms under Travancore considered the Lord as their master and offered their valuables to the Temple as tokens of devotion & regards. Apart from the Travancore Kings, who wholeheartedly bestowed so many priceless assets (gold, silver, diamonds …) to their State Temple, several Royals from different parts of India and foreign rulers too, donated countless invaluable souvenirs to Padmanabhaswamy Temple. The reigning King(s) safely guarded the Temple’s treasures and ruled without eyeing their dizzy value, as they considered it as God’s own property for which it’s their duty to protect. In fact, as they treated themselves as the servants of the Lord, Travancore Kings never wore a Crown (except for a brief time during their swearing-in ceremony). Such was the Travancore Royal clan’s bonding with Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple. Even old testimonies state, the Kings served their people without making use of any Temple’s treasures and even without imposing unnecessary taxes  – a sharp contrast to the present governing system of Kerala where the word ‘corruption’ is more like a brand name!

The rituals and customs introduced by King Marthanda Varma were voluntarily followed by all the successors to the throne of Travancore… until the Kings lost their authority with the formation of Independent India in 1947. However the last reigning King of Travancore Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma continued his duties & services to the Temple, strictly in accordance with earlier customs, till his death and now the Temple administration is handled by the present head of the royal clan, Uthradam Thirunal Marthanda Varma.

Temple Specialties…

The royal legacy of Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple cannot be complete without mentioning its unique features. The Temple architecture itself is one-of-a-kind. Distinctly different from traditional Kerala architectural style, Padmanabhaswamy Temple showcases a nice blend of Dravidian-Kerala structural combination, which can be found nowhere else in the state.

The Temple complex is flanked by ‘Padma Theertham’ (means, Lotus Pond), a sacred pond which is considered as old as the Temple itself. On the north-east side of the pond, lies a cave inside which a small Lord Shiva Temple is located. The most interesting feature of this pond is a raised stone at its center, which is believed to bear the footmarks of Lord Vishnu (Sree Padmanabhaswamy). Devotees cleanse themselves in Padma Theertham before proceeding for Temple worship. Also they feed the fishes in this pond as a mark of devotion.

Inside the Temple complex, what stand amongst the numerous sculptural beauties are the ‘the Bali Peeda Mandapam’ and ‘Mukha Mandapam’, two artistically sculptured halls dating back to the era of King Marthanda Varma. Another notable feature here is the ‘Navagraha Mandapa’, where the ceiling displays the Navagrahas (Nine Planets, which according to Hindu philosophy signifies different stages in human life) – something rarely seen typical Kerala Temples.

The chief deity, Lord Anatha Padmanabha (Lord Vishnu in a reclining position on the Serpant Anantha), is consecrated in a unique way. The 18 feet long idol is built with 10,008 precious saligram stones, and can be viewed through three doors – Lord’s head and his right hand, hanging over the Shivalingam, thro’ first door, the middle portion with Lord Brahma seated on a lotus (which comes from the navel of Lord Vishnu) thro’ the second door and, Lord’s feet thro’ the third door.

As with the ancient legendary Temples around the world, Padmanabhaswamy Temple too has got its own share of distinct murals and wood-works. For the people who throng to the Temple at all times, it’s a feast for eyes as well as mind.

With the recent discovery of Padmanabhaswamy Temple’s immense treasure trove led to a new twist over the Temple affairs. The legal battles for Temple management go on and people continue to ponder over the fate of the treasure… Whatever be the outcome; staunch devotees are certain that Lord Sree Padmanabhaswamy continues to grace his subjects and Thriuvananthapuram (and Kerala) will remain God’s Own Country forever as the ‘Land of Sree Padmanabhaswamy’, to be precise the.

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