Onam the most significant national festival of Kerala, is celebrated in the month of Chingam (August-September). Coming after the rain drenched Karkidakam (June- July) with its scarcity, Chingam is a month of plenitude and welcomed in the state by all and sundry. A ten day festival, Onam starts formally on the day of the lunar asterism Atham and ends in the asterism Thiruvonam.
An occassion of high merriment and grand festivities, Onam provides a wonderful excuse for family get-together to the Keralites. Songs, music, rituals and sumptuous feasting form the hallmarks of Onam
But one of the most important things about Onam is Onakkodi, new clothes specially purchased for the festival. Worn on Thiruvonam, the main day of the festival, Onakkodi is an indispensable article for the ceremony of temple visit during Onam.
The state of Kerala enjoys a cent percent literacy but the Keralites are very simple in their habits and dress. The women mostly wear off-white sarees made of cotton, although terrycot and pastel shades are becoming popular. During Onam, as in other festive occassions, Keralite women wear bright sarees
with a zari design in the centre. But glaring designs are shunned. Even on normal days, women here
wear flowers such as jasmine in single or double strands to decorate their hair. On festive occassions flowers are woven into intricate designs and put on the base of the head. A strand of jasmine or any small seasonal flower is a temptation to which most women, old or young, succumb. It is to be remembered that women in South India do not cover their heads unlike their Northern Indian counterparts and hence, they have ample opportunity to showcase their beautifully decorated heads.
The off-white lungi is the common dress for South Indian men. While the lungi takes care of the bottom half of their body, their upper half is covered by a cloth known as utthariyeem, hanging on the shoulder and reaching to the waist or a little higher. On festive days, both the lungi and the utthariyeem contains zari designs.
Onakkodi forms the most important gift for Onam. On Thiruvonam, everybody in Kerala wears new clothes. In Kerala, it is a popular tradition to gift Onakkodi to near and dear for Onam. The head of a family often presents his family members with Onakkodi on the Onam day.
The merrymaking in the state and the festive mood of the people dressed in their best during Onam is considered reminiscent of the honest and prosperous life of the subjects during King Mahabali's golden rule. The putting away of the old clothes and wearing new dresses on Onam signify the removal of all negative thoughts and casting the heart in a new mould. As people from all communities join in the Onam celebrations, casting aside their sectarian outlooks, the tradition of "Onakkodi" seems all the more significant and a fulfilling one for all those who place humanity above every other value.