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Difference Between Old Onam & New Onam: Five Things You Need To Know

Shigraf Zahbi
Shigraf Zahbi

Onam, the festival of the harvest season is celebrated all over Kerala and is even the official festival of the state. It commemorates the Asura king, Mahabali who is celebrated as a kind and just ruler. The festival’s origins are very ancient and in the modern times, its interpretations have changed and so have the ways in which it is celebrated.

Here are the five differences between ‘old’ Onam and ‘new’ Onam that will give you a sense of how it has evolved over the years.  

Pookkalam, the Carpet of Flowers 

pookkalam is a flower carpet which has a huge significance during Onam. It is usually laid in the courtyard of a house. Earlier, the designs used to be simpler and made by children and family members using locally available flowers from personal gardens. The flowers used usually included ThulasiIxoraKumbalamAripoo, and other indigenous varieties.  

Perhaps the most notable difference between old Onam and new Onam is that these flower carpets, or pookkalams, have become fancier. Nowadays, more intricate designs are made and flowers are even imported from other countries for this very purpose. In fact, there are competitions held during the festivities which involve making the most beautiful pookkalam 

Archery Contests 

Another difference between old Onam and new Onam are these archery contests. Previously, men of the city used to participate in archery contests which attracted huge crowds. Locally known as Ambeyyal, the game involved two teams in which each team member was given a bow. The game is played with blunted arrows as, according to the rules of the game, the men shoot them at each other. The game is no longer as relevant.  

White Clothes 

Like any other festival, getting dressed up comprises a major part of Onam festivities. Mostly, women wear Kasavu saris which are white or off-white in colour and have borders of golden thread. They also wear gold jewelleries. On the other hand, men wear traditional mundus, a garment worn around the waist. The coloured border is called kara. Although, the clothing traditions are still mostly followed, wearing these ethnic clothes has been much reduced and has now become limited to very special occasions.  


Another difference between old Onam and new Onam are the swings. Earlier, the swings used to be made up of vines of OdalPlanchi, and Korandi. These used to be strong enough to carry the weight of a person. Then, these swings were replaced by ropes tied between trees. Now, swings are made of metal and can be found in public parks and playgrounds.  


Earlier, Onam used to be all about household festivities: the pookkalam was made up of flowers obtained from one’s own garden, the garments were woven locally, and vegetables were grown in one’s own backyard. Nowadays, Onam has become more about shopping and consumerism. The department of agriculture in Kerala has tried to re-establish the tradition of home-grown vegetables. However, like everything else, rapid commercialization has mostly engulfed the simple festivities.  

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