The first month of Malayalam Calendar is Medam (April-May) and the first day of Medam is celebrated as Vishu, the New Year day. Begin an auspicious day; it is a common belief that the fortune of the coming year depends on the first day. So the first day begins with ceremony of Kani Kanal, which literally means first sight. At the dawn, the Malayali's begin the first day of the Year by waking up in front of Kani. The Kani includes gold ornament, white cloth, a measure of rice or paddy, bell metal mirror, flowers of the Konna tree (Cussia fistula), halved jack fruits, halved coconuts, yellow cucumber, and two standing oil lamps emitting sparkling light their eyes. Another interesting features of this day are Kaayi neetal where the elder members in the family gift money to the younger ones.
Hindus celebrate Deepawali with great pomp and enthusiasm. This is the great festival honouring Mother Lakshmi (goddess of wealth). The historic origins of some of the various Hindu festivals revolve around their special significance for each of the four castes. Sravan is primarily a festive month for the Brahmins (priests). Dassera (Vijay Dashmi) is a festival primarily for the Kshatriyas (warriors). Holi is a festival primarily for the Sudras and Deepawali is a festival primarily for the Vaisyas.
These distinctions are not rigid and generally all Hindus participate and celebrate all these festivals.
Hindus celebrate Mahasivarathri, all over the world in Kumbam (Feb-March). It commemorates the day on which Lord Shiva consumed the deadly poison (Kalakuda visham) to save the world from destruction. The offering of special pooja and abhishekhams, and the presentation of cultural programmes in all the Shiva temples celebrate the day. The annual Sivarathri festival held on the banks of river Periyar at Aluva, is one of the most spectacular local festivals of Kerala, which attracts thousands of pilgrims from all over the state. It has been compared to the Kumbamela at Prayag.
Literally Navarathri means Nine nights. This festival is celebrated for Navagraha Naayagi (Nine nymphs). It is called by different names in different parts of India. In Karnataka, it is called Dasara, in Bengal - Kali Pooja and in this state it is known as Saraswathy Pooja. Saraswathy is known as goddess of Knowledge. On this day all tools and books are kept for Pooja. Children who are to begin their schooling are made to write the first alphabet in rice with their finger.
The birthday of Lord Krishna is celebrated with great importance on this day. It is held in the month of Chingam (Aug- Sept). Devotees visit the Krishna temples where special Pooja and cultural programmes are held.
This festival is celebrated in the month of Vrischikam (Nov -Dec). Display of light in the evening is a unique part of the festival.
Thiruvathira falls on the month of Dhanu (December-January) and is a woman's festival. It commemorates the death of Kamadeva, the cupid of Hindu mythology. The aim of the celebration is conjugal harmony and happiness. The dance form Thiruvathirkkali is associated with this celebration.
The tenth day, Vijaydashmi, is the day of victory, representing the day of enlightenment when all vasanas are destroyed and the knowledge of the Self has dawned in the individual. The individual is said to have attained God-realisation. The triumph of having moved from the ignorant state of JIVAHOOD (embodied soul) to the enlightened state of SHIVAHOOD. This day marks the triumph of spirit over matter, of victory of divine qualities over evil qualities, of the removal of ignorance by the light of wisdom and knowledge.
The victory of Durga is the triumph of the aggressive good over evil, the destruction of vasanas / subtle impressions, desires, and the realisation of the divine Self.
In modern language, Saraswati represents pure science and Lakshmi represents applied science. Thus Lakshmi flows from Saraswati. First comes the worship of Saraswati through scientific research and then acquisition, assimilation and distribution of knowledge. This is followed by the worship of Lakshmi through the application of knowledge in all fields of human development and welfare.
An important festivity associated with temple festivals in the Kollam and Alappuzha (Chettikulangara) districts is the Kettukazcha or Kutirakettu. The main feature of the festival is that people from different Karas adjoining the temple concerned bring huge rathams or cars of varying in height. The images of Hindu gods and Goddesses and effigies of Puranic figures like Bhima, Panchali, Hanuman etc., are kept in the ratham.
Attukal Pongala this is the one and the only temple festival in the world where lakhs of women assembled together to make offerings by cooking a pudding for the goddess in the Attukal temple near Thiruvananthapuram. It is taken home after the chief priest of the temple will come and sprinkle the holy water and will shower the flowers. This festival will come to an end in the evening with a procession from the temple.
Makaravillakku at Sabarimala
For centuries, Sabarimala in Pathanamthitta has been a major Hindu pilgrim centre in Kerala attracting lakhs of devotees from all over India, more so from the southern states. The presiding deity is Lord Ayyappa known as Dharma Sastha, a considered symbol of unity between Vaishnavites and Saivites.
There are two main rituals called the Mandal Puja and the Makara Sankranti Puja, which is celebrated from November to mid-January. Devotees undergo rigorous penance and austere living before starting on the pilgrimage. Regardless of caste, creed and colour they wear black dhoties and carry on their heads, bundles containing traditional offerings like coconuts filled with ghee, camphor and rice.
The temple dome is covered with gold and the devotees break the coconuts before climbing the steps. Among the pilgrims, there are a few who are undertaking the pilgrimage for the first time while there are a few who have been doing so for the past many years. The first timers are known as 'Kanni Swamis' and the leader of the group is known as 'Guru Swami' or the lead person of a team who is in charge of all the rituals.
Devotees take a ritual bath while climbing up the hill in the holy river Pamba, which absolves one's sins. En route at Erumeli, in a supreme instance of communal harmony, they pay obeisance at the shrine of Vavar, a Muslim deity believed to be a close ally of Lord Ayyappa.
To ease the ardour of the long trek through the forests to the temple at the peak of the Sabari Hills, devotees constantly chant the name of the holy one - 'Saranam Ayyappa... Swamiya saranam'. No women in the fertility age group are allowed into the precincts of the shrine of the Lord who is considered to be an Eternal Bachelor.
Location : Located 120 km from Kottayam in Pathanamthitta district, Kerala. The temple (Sannidhanam)is 5 km trek from the road head Pamba.
Theyyam is one of the popular festivals of North Kerala. It is the worship of the deity; on the other hand, the dancer is also the deity. Theyyam celebrates primarily the Mother Goddess. Animals, serpents and trees also figure in worship.
Lasts for ten days. Beginning on the day of Pushya (the 8th asterism) in the month of Kumbham ( February-March), it ends after the Aarattu on the 10th day. Culturally, it consists of various processions, illumination and modest fire-works. All ten days, the place wears a festive look, streets dressed up with arches, festoons etc., houses freshly thatched and painted. Two Gopurams and the bahyankana (outer-courtyard) are elaborately decorated with illuminations and eye-catching electric displays. The lamps, deepasthambams and vilakku are all lightened.
Pallivetta (Royal Hunt) and Arattu (Holy Bath) are part of the rituals of the festivals of some of the major temples of Kerala.
The speciality of the Arattu at the Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram is that the head of the royal family of erstwhile Travancore still provides escort to the procession of idols. The two annual ten-day festivals of the temple fall in October- November and March-April.
Chettikulagara Bharanai Temple, the famous temple dedicated to the awesome Goddess Bhagavathi is about 5 km from Kayamkulam. The important festival here occurs on the Bharani asterism in February/ March.
The goddess Bhagavathy is the presiding deity of the small temple of Elamkavu Attuvela, situated 3 kms from Vaikom on the banks of river Vadayar.
The temple boasts of two festivals, namely, the flag hoisting festival, lasting for eight days (February 19- 26), and the two-day Attuvela Festival (April 12-13). During the Attuvela, beautifully illuminated canoes, carrying a huge replica of the temple, glide down the waters.
Kadammanitta, a village 8 kms away from Pathanamthitta is famous for its annual Patayani festival held in the premises of the Devi temple. Patayani, a ritual art form is an offering to the mother Goddess.
This festival is conducted every year from the first day of the Malayalam month Medam (April) to the tenth day. The tenth day is considered to be the most auspicious day, which is celebrated as 'Pathamudayam'.
The Viswanatha Swamy temple, built in 1425 A.D, is located 3 km from Palakkad town. The famous Kalpathy car festival begins with hoisting of the ceremonial flag in the month of November. During the annual festival of Ratholsavam (Chariot Festival) thousands of devotees haul the huge, intricately carved temple chariots through the streets.
Vedic ricitals are held in the temple throughout the festival. Throbbing with the Vedic chants sonorously recited by the Vedic scholars escorting the god, Kalpathy comes alive with the spirit of true devotion and joyous celebration.
Kodungalloor, 50 km north of Kochi, was the ancient port town of Muziris or Crangannore. Goddess Bhagavathi is the presiding deity of the ancient temple here.
The Bharani Festival, which falls in the Malayalam month of Meenam (March/ April) attracts the largest congregation of 'Velichappadu' (Oracles), including women from different parts of the State.
Kottankulangara Chamayavillanku is a unique festival, which is held at the Kottankulangara temple in Chavara, near Kollam, where hundreds of sturdy men dress up as comely females. This is an offering to the goddess Bhagavathy, the deity of the temple.
'Machattuvela' also known as 'Machattu Mamangam' is celebrated with great pomp, pageantry and splendour on the last day of the five-day annual festival at Machattu Thiruvanikavu Temple near Vadakkancherry, Thrissur.
The Lokanarkavu Bhagavathi Temple is a temple frequently alluded to in the Northern Ballads or the Vadakkanpattu of Kerala. The main deity is Goddess Durga, with two adjacent shrines dedicated to Vishnu and Siva.
The three rock cut caves in the temple premises are artfully engraved with beautiful carvings and fascinating murals. The candid murals and carvings here are a delight to art lovers. The main temple, according to legend, is more than 1500 years old.
The annual festival called 'Lokanarkavu Festival' is celebrated in March / April. Situated on the right bank of Kuttiyadi river, Vadakara has a historical fort which is now in ruins. This temple, associated with the heroes and heroines of the Vadakkanpattu combines an arresting simplicity and a legendary aura.
Vishuvilakkutsavam, the eight-day annual festival at Palotukavu temple, falls in the Malayalam month of Medam (April/May).
Grand Theyyam performances are staged every morning and evening of the festival. On the concluding night, an array of awe inspiring Theyyams like Daivathareeswaran, Kurathi, Kundora Chamundy, Nellorthy, Pothy, Angakaram, Oorvasi, Vettakkorumakan etc. are presented till day break.
Located at a panoramic site in Azhikode, 6 kms from Kannur, the temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu in his incarnation as 'Matsya' (Fish).
Parassini Madappura is perhaps the only shrine in Kerala to celebrate a festival round the year. The 'Utsavam', the festival begins in December. 'Theyyam', the ritual offering here is performed every morning and evening by the priest who is called 'Madayan'.
Located on the banks of the river Valapattanam (Belipattanam) at Parassinikkadavu, 16 kms from Kannur town, the shrine is dedicated to Sree Muthappan, the hunter or 'Kiratha' incarnation of Lord Siva.
The offerings and rituals are unique here. Toddy, an alcoholic drink extracted from coconut palms is the main offering to the deity.
Located high in the Wayanad Hills at Valliyoorkkavu, 3 kms from Mananthavady town, the temple is dedicated to goddess Bhagavathy.
The idol of the temple is believed to be self- manifested and the annual festival is held in March. The traditional ritual of the Kalamezhuthu is performed during all nights of the festival.
On the final day, the array of folk art forms are presented. The dances performed by the local tribals, using native percussion instruments are a major attraction.
Thirunelli Festival is a two-day festival celebrated on Vishu day and its eve, in the Malayalam month of Medam (April) is the annual festival of Sree Thirunelli Devaswom at Thirunelli in Wayanad.
Papanasini, the holy mountain spring here believed to have the divine power to absolve the soul of all its sins, flows near the shrine.
A sacred rock nearby is the place where ritual offerings are made for the ancestors on the new moon days of Malayalam months of 'Karkkidakam' (July/ August), 'Thulam' (October/ November) and 'Kumbham' (February/ March).