Onam is celebrated at the beginning of the month of Chingam, the first month of the solar Malayalam calendar (Kollavarsham). It falls in August or September each year. There are four main days of Onam. The most important day of Onam (known as Thiru Onam or Thiruvonam, meaning “Sacred Onam Day”) is the second day.
In 2018, Thiru Onam is on August 25.
In 2019, Thiru Onam is on September 11.
In 2020, Thiru Onam is on August 31.
Onam Dates Detailed Information
Festivities actually commence 10 days before Thiru Onam, on Atham. As per the Malayalam calendar, the dates for 2018 and their significance are as follows:
Atham (August 15, 2018) — is when mythical King Mahabali is believed to have started preparing to return to visit his kingdom in Kerala. People begin the day with an early bath, followed by temple visits and prayers. The women also commence creating floral arrangements (pookalam) on the ground in front of homes to welcome him.
Traditionally, the pookalams are completed with ten rings, each representing a Hindu god. The colours are chosen to please each god, and only yellow flowers are used on Atham for the first layer of the pookalam. However, these days, more importance is given to how elaborate and striking the design is. A grand procession, Athachamyam, marks the start of Onam celebrations near Kochi.
Chithira (August 16, 2018) — more layers are added to the pookalams, using mostly orange and creamy yellow flowers.
Chodhi (August 17, 2018) — is a fun-filled day that marks the start of shopping for Onam. People begin buying new clothes, jewellery, and gifts.
Vishakham (August 18, 2018) — housewives visit the markets to stock up on ingredients to make the elaborate Onam meal. Markets traditionally used to hold their harvest sale on this day, making it a popular day for shopping. Pookalam design competitions also commence across Kerala on his day.
Anizham (August 19, 2018) — snake boat races kick-off across the state. A mock race is held at Aranmula as a rehearsal for the race that’s held there after the main day of Onam.
Thriketa (August 20, 2018) — people start visiting their families and fresh flowers continue to be added to pookalams.
Moolam (August 21, 2018) — the state is beautifully decorated. People also decorate swings with flowers to celebrate the king’s homecoming. Many places start serving smaller versions of the traditional Onasadya Onam meal.
Pooradam (August 22, 2018) — the day starts with the ritual installation of pyramid-style clay statues, known as Onathappan, in the centre of pookalams. They represent king Mahabali and Lord Vamana (the fifth incarnation of Lord Vishnu, who sent Mahabali to the underworld but allowed him to visit his kingdom once a year during Onam). By now, the pookalams have greatly grown in size and complexity of the design.
Uthradom (August 23, 2018) — this day is considered Onam eve. Do note that this year, Uthradom falls across two days (August 23, as well as August 24).
First Onam/Uthradom (August 24, 2018) — King Mahabali is believed to arrive in Kerala on this day. It’s a jubilant occasion when people rush to complete their Onam shopping and the cleaning of their homes. It’s considered to be an auspicious day for buying fresh fruit and vegetables.
Second Onam/Thiruvonam (August 25, 2018) — the main Onam celebrations occur on this day when King Mahabali is said to visit people’s homes. Homes are spic and span, finished pookalams are elaborate, new clothes are worn, and families gather to enjoy an elaborate vegetarian feast known as the Onam Sadya or Onasadya.
Third Onam/Avvittom (August 26, 2018) — preparations are undertaken for King Mahabali’s departure. Onathappan statues are immersed in the sea or river, and pookalams are cleared and removed.
Fourth Onam/Chatayam (August 27, 2018) — post-Onam celebrations continue for the next couple of days with snake boat races, Pulikkali tiger play, and Kerala Tourism’s Onam Week program.