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March 5, 2024 | Theatre,

A Brief History of Onam

Mrs. Krishnan’s Party is headed to ArtsEmerson this spring and it is set to be a theatrical experience like no other! Dive into the vibrant culture of Kerala firsthand through Onam, a festival that showcases its rich traditions, flavors, and unity. What better way to truly connect with the spirit of Kerala than by experiencing Onam firsthand? 

Fans with DJ Jimmy

Onam is a major and vibrant festival celebrated in Kerala, India, marking the start of the Malayalam New Year. It is a harvest festival that brings together people of all religions and communities, showcasing the rich cultural heritage of Kerala. It honors the mythical beloved King Mahabali, whose rule is commemorated with his annual return to visit his people. The festival is celebrated over ten days and is one of the most important festivals for Malayalis. 

Onam’s history is rooted in the legend of King Mahabali, a generous Asura king loved for his rule over Kerala. The gods, threatened by his power, sought Vishnu’s (one of the main deities of Hinduism) intervention, who attempted to take land from King Mahabali. King Mahabali, in a selfless act, offered Vishnu his own head instead of taking any more land from his people. Vishnu, impressed with Mahabali’s humility, has since allowed the King to visit Kerala annually — it is this yearly return that has turned into the celebration of Onam. 

Mrs K Tasting

The first day of Onam, Atham, is considered the most important day of the celebration. Activities include cleaning homes, creating Pookalam floral carpets to welcome King Mahabali, and preparing Onasadya, a feast of over twenty dishes served on banana leaves. Participants also wear traditional attire, with men in dhotis and women in Kerala sarees or a Set Mundu. Onam features cultural dances such as Kathakali and Mohiniyattam as well as notable snake boat races (Vallam Kali) highlighting Kerala’s maritime culture. The celebration also showcases traditional games, elephant processions, and Pulikali tiger dances — uniting Keralites globally in a grand, vibrant celebration. It’s a time of family, worship, and gratitude for the harvest, embodying Kerala’s rich culture, cuisine, and communal spirit. 

Further explore Onam and the rich beauty of Kerala during Mrs. Kirshnan’s Party, playing at the Emerson Paramount Center Jackie Liebergott Black Box Theatre from March 27-April 7. Performances are quickly selling out, but tickets to select shows are still available, so be sure to secure yours today online, over the phone, or in-person at our Box Office located at 559 Washington Street Boston, MA 02111.

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