Kerala Festivals
Festivities and Celebrations of the Malayalam Year

Kerala Festivals

Kerala festivals bring to life the state's rich culture, and no matter what time of the year you visit, there will be something to see. This guide to Kerala festivals lists some of the highlights, many of which would be worth planning a trip around. Thousands more exist, and the best way to find them is to talk to locals once you are there, or listen out for the sound of fireworks, singing and drums.

One of my most memorable nights in Kerala was watching a chanting, torch-lit procession pass slowly along the far bank of the river that I was staying beside. It was completely unexpected - the sound of the drums preceded the bobbing chain of lights that appeared - and could be heard long after the procession had passed.

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Ernakulathappan Utsavam - Jan/Feb, Ernakulam

Celebrated in Ernakulam, ashore from the popular tourist destination of Fort Cochin, this festival takes place over eight days at the Ernakulathapan Temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva.

The festival includes fireworks, panchavadyam and kathakali performances (music and dance), fireworks and a procession of 15 elaborately decorated elephants. Around the temple, stalls are erected and within pujas and bhajans (offerings and spiritual songs) take place.

Bharni Utsavam - Feb/Mar, Chettikulangara Village

This Kerala festival takes place over only one day at the Chettikulangara Bhaghavaty Temple in Chettikulangara, which is between Alleppey and Kollam.

The festival celebrates a Keralan deity, the goddess Bhagavathy. Special rituals take place on this day, such as the 1200 year old Kuthiyottam where boys bedecked with silver wire form a procession to the temple deities culminating in a frenzied dance. There is also a Kettukazhcha procession where huge, colourful effigies are brought to the temple.

Vishu Festival - Mar/Apr, statewide

This is the New Year of the Malalayam calendar, and is an auspicious day for all Keralans.

It is believed that the first items seen when waking on this day will influence the fortunes of the following year. Keralans therefore arrange Vishukkani to be seen by all members of the family upon opening their eyes. Vishukkani consist a collection of auspicious items such as coconut, mangoes, a gold ornament, new cloth, betel leaves, flowers and a deity of the Lord Krishna.

The day is also marked by large family meals and visiting relatives.

Kollam Pooram - April, Kollam (Quilon)

This 10 day festival celebrated in Kollam takes place at the Asramam Sri Krishnaswamy Maha Temple. The deities of nearby temples are brought on 30 decorated elephants (important to many Kerala festivals) to pay homage to the Krishna deity at Asraman.

The festival is also memeorable for its fireworks and all night Kathakali performances.

Thrissur Pooram - Apr/May, Thrissur

The 'pooram of all poorams,' this yearly festival at Thrissur is the largest of its kind and one of the grandest Kerala festivals.

It takes place over 36 hours and stages a procession of 50 elephants all decorated with headdress, bells and ornaments and accompanied by rythmic drums. A huge and impressive display of fireworks is seen in the early hours of the following morning.

Ochirakkali - Jun/Jul, Ochchira

Ths festival at Ochchira (near Kayamkulam, Thiruvananthapuram district) commemorates a battle between the Rajas of Kollam (Quilon) and Kayamkulam.

A mock battle takes place with the participents dressed as warriors with shields and swords, standing knee-deep in water. Martial arts such as Kalarippayattu are employed. Cattle and agriculural fairs take place on the following days.

Oddities of this festival are that it is generally believed that for the seven days of the festival there will be constant rain. The festival takes place at the Ochira Parabrahma temple which uniquely has no idol, being dedicated to universal consciousness.

Nehru Trophy Snake Boat Race - 2nd Sat of Aug, Alappuzha (Alleppey)

Popular with locals as well as Indian and foreign tourists, this is the most famous of Kerala's 'snake boat races'. It takes place on Vembanad Lake in Alleppey. Tickets can be bought for the Tourist Pavillion, where you will get a better view.

The chundan vallam (snake boats) are over 30 metres long, with tall, snaking prows and are crewed by 100 rowers. The men sing rowing songs as they compete, and are shaded by colourful silk umbrellas.

Aranmula Boat Race - Aug/Sep, Aranmula

The oldest boat festival of Kerala, this regatta is celebrated at the time of the Onam Festival (see below).

Rowers wearing long white mundu (loincloth) and turbans sing traditional songs as the row the 30 metre long snake boats, which are decorated with lace, flags and parasols.

Onam - Aug/Sep, statewide

The biggest of Kerala festivals, Onam is a colourful celebration of Keralan culture that is popular to Hindus, Muslims and Christians alike. The festival marks the homecoming of the legendary King Mahabali, who was considered to rule during Kerala's 'golden-age' at a time of equality and prosperity.

The ten day festival sees snake boat races, donning of new clothes, onam sadya (an elaborate feast served on banana leaf), puja (prayer) and creation of pookkalam (inricate flower or chalk decorations on the floor in front of houses).

Deepavali (Diwali) - Oct/Nov, statewide

A national festival of India, the celebration known as the 'festival of lights' is referred to as Deepavali in southern India.

Deepavali is celebrated in Kerala with firecrackers, lighting candles and fairylights, giving of sweets and wearing of new clothes. Melas (fairs and markets) are held in villages, and prayer and offerings take place among Hindus throughout the festivities.

Kalpathi Ratholsavam - November, Kalpathi

Held in Kerala's Palakkad district, this ten day Hindu chariot festival is in hounour of the deities of Lord Shiva and his consort, Visalakshi (Parvarti).

During the festivities huge decorated chariots / temple cars (large wooden constructions used to transport temple deities) are pulled through the streets by devotees.

Christmas - 25th Dec, Christians statewide

Celebrated by the large Chrisian population in Kerala, Christmas is a time for giving gifts, feasting and visiting family.

In churches, in Christian homes, shops, restaurants and villages an elaborate crib and manger scene is commonly displayed to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ. Processions and singing of hymns often accompany the occasion.

Kerala festivals are part of the unique Kerala culture that make this a fascinating destination to travel to. Find out more about Kerala on the Kerala history and Kerala food pages.

More useful advice and guides for travel to Kerala.


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