No boat race, no Athachamayam: Kerala is celebrating an indoor Onam amid pandemic

With Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan calling for indoor celebrations, major events related to Onam have been cancelled, as people let tradition take a backseat over safety.

Every year, from Atham (on August 22 this year) to Thiruvonam (on August 31), God’s own country Kerala wears a festive cheer as it celebrates the 10 days of Onam, the harvest festival.

However, the Covid-19 pandemic has taken the sheen off the festivities this year. With Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan calling for indoor celebrations, major events related to Onam have been cancelled, as people let tradition take a backseat over safety.

This is how the major Onam events have fared amid the pandemic.

Thrikkakara Temple festival

The main temple festival for Onam is held at the Vamana Moorthy temple in Thrikkakara, among the few temples dedicated to Lord Vamana. Thrikkakara is considered the abode of Mahabali.

Legend has it that the temple is at the site where king Mahabali was sent to Patala (the underworld) by Lord Vamana, with his foot. In fact, the place derives its name from this legend — “Thiru-Kaal-Kara” means ‘the place of the holy foot’.

From the Athachamayam, art performances, Onam feast (Sadhya) to the final procession (Pakalpooram on day 9), the traditions and festivities here last 10 days.

However, with the ongoing pandemic, except the temple traditions, all major celebrations, such as processions and the iconic Onam Sadhya (feast), have been called off.

“Though the temple is open for the public, all major celebrations have been called off and only the temple traditions, like the ‘Chaarthu’( idol decoration), are being carried out,” Narayanan Namboothiri, a former priest at the temple, told

Namboothiri also said that as per the Centre’s guideline, only five people will be allowed inside the temple at a time, in view of the COVID-19 situation.


Athachamayam, which is also a part of the Thrikkakara temple festival, is a cultural fiesta that marks the beginning of the 10-day festivities of Onam.

A traditional Athachamayam procession is held at Tripunithura, a region in the city of Kochi, on the day of Atham as per the Malayalam calendar.

From Pulikkali, Theyyam, Mayilattom and classical art forms like Kathakali, a typical Athachamayam is a display of almost all folk art forms of Kerala. Floats, folk music and dance add colour to the procession.

This year, the procession was cancelled due to the worsening COVID-19 situation in the state.

Boat Races

A boat race, traditionally known as Vallam Kali in Malayalam, is a form of canoe racing integral to Onam celebrations. The race, which is also a major tourist attraction, includes several types of paddle boats or snake boats (Chundan vallam), about 30 to 35 meters in length.

Nehru Trophy boat race

Among the most popular such races is the Nehru Trophy boat race, held in the Punnamada Lake in Alappuzha, Kerala. The race is highly competitive, with various categories.  This year was to be its 68th edition.

In view of the pandemic, the race, earlier scheduled for the second Saturday of August, has been postponed indefinitely.

Aranmula Uthrattathi boat race

Aranmula Uthrattathi boat race, near Pathanamthitta district’s Aranmula, is another famous boat racing event.

Legend says that a devout Brahmin had promised to give all the requirements for the Tiruvona Sadya (Onam feast) at the Parthasarathy temple in Aranmula. As the requirements were being transported to the temple, the boat (Thiruvona Thoni) carrying it was attacked by enemies. However, local ‘snake boats’ from the surrounding areas came to the rescue and helped fulfill the Brahmin’s promise, thus marking the genesis of the boat race in the area.

Aranmula boat race, unlike the Nehru Trophy boat race, is less competitive and is more about traditions. This year, it was supposed to be held on September 4.

Palliyoda Seva Sangam, a 13-member executive committee which takes decisions regarding the race and the Valla Sadhya (feast) that follows, has put forward a proposal seeking permission to conduct the event adhering to social distancing norms.

“We have put forward a proposal, seeking permission to conduct the Valla Sadhya with 50 people. However, we are yet to get the permission,” Jayakrishnan MG, a representative of the Palliyoda Seva Sangam, said.

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