Onam is one of the most important festivals of Kerala and it is celebrated with immense joy and fervor all over the state by people of all communities. It is said that Onam is celebrated to welcome King Mahabali, whose spirit is said to visit the state of Kerala at the time of Onam. As this festival falls during the fortnight of the Malayalam New Year, it is welcomed with a special enthusiasm and zest. The celebration goes on for ten days and the tenth day of the festival called Thiruvonam is celebrated with grand traditional cuisines, beautiful dances and classic music and Onakalikal – the traditional Onam games.
After the gala Onam feast, wonderful Kathakali dance performances, socializing and exchanging warm wishes, Onam celebrations are marked with lots of indoor and outdoor traditional sports and activities to indulge in, collectively known as 'Onakalikal'. Besides the usual games of chess, dice or cards, played by the old people there are football matches, personal combats, archery and boxing for the young and more energetic. These games add to the enthusiasm and vibrancy of the festival. People of all age groups participate in the festivals and enjoy the festivities.
Traditional Onam Games
The most popular outdoor game is Pantukali in which the ball is prepared by tying a few pebbles in the layers of dried-up plantain leaves with the help of a plantain or coconut fiber. The players are divided into two groups and a stick called 'natta' is planted at one end of the court. The court is basically an open space with lines drawn at to indicate the limit beyond which the ball should not be thrown. One party serves the ball and tries to hit the stick while others try to catch it. If the ball is caught then the man is out otherwise he gets another chance.
Combats are usually of two kinds - those that are undertaken singly known as Kayyankali. It is a violent game and has all the risks of an ancient duel. However no weapons or horses are allowed. In this game there is a display of power. The participants fight one to one. This game is basically the display of power. There are fights, wounds, blood and even death at times.
Attakalam is another kind of combat which is comparatively less hazardous in nature compared to the Kayyankali. In this the game is not played individually rather the players are made to play into groups. A large circle is drawn on the plain sand floor and one group is placed inside the circle. A member of the second group tries to bring the former outside the circle and both are free to use force. However, once any member of the inside team steps of the circle, he is considered out. After all the members of a team are dragged out, the other team takes its position inside the circle. If a member of any team cannot be driven out, his party is declared victorious.
Ambeyyal is actually the game of ‘archery’. In this game, two groups of young men shoot blunted arrows at each other. It is a game to test the patience, skill and persistence of the players. However, since the arrows are strong and are delivered with force, they still manage to hurt many. The bows are made of about 18-inch long bamboo. There is a mark in the form of a little stick called 'cheppu' and those who hit this mark are allowed to carry all the arrows lying on the ground for their team.
Popularly known as Kabbaddi in rest of India, Kutukutu is a simple group game. In this game, there are two teams with eight players each. It is played in a rectangular court which is divided into two halves, one for each team. One man from one group advances from the middle line towards the opponent's area uttering 'Kutu Kutu' in one continuous breath and try to touch the opponents and run back to the central line without being caught. However, if he is physically caught and is out of breath before touching the central line, he is out of the game.