Is there any festival similar to Onam celebrated in other parts of the world?

If we hear about Onam and floral decorations as a part of celebrations, harvest festival of Kerala – Onam comes in the first place. Have you ever thought about Pookkalams made in other parts of the world, for regional festivals? Is there any emperor similar to our own Maveli for whom such pookkalams are made; celebrations conducted? You guessed it right. Pookkalams form a part of Kerala culture definitely. But it is also associated with a few more countries, and most of those celebrations are associated with New Year. Most of them are celebrated during the month of either April or August/September as New Year celebrations, which is quite matching with India’s New Year celebrations. Let us have a look.

Huge flower carpet of Brussels

Songkran festival – Onam of Thailand 

Similar to Thiruvonam of Kerala, celebration of Thailand is also associated with New Year. People of Thailand celebrate their ‘Onam’ for the first five days of New Year, and is named as Songkran festival. It normally falls on 13 April every year, and falls in array with many New Year celebrations of South and Southeast Asian countries as per Hindu and Buddhist calendars. They wear new dresses and decorate their homes and images of Buddha with beautiful flowers as well. Not only that, they also prepare a royal Sadya for lunch. You will be surprised to know they own a sport similar to Pulikali of Kerala, which is specially played during New Year occasion.

Pookkalam of Asian countries – Japan and Cambodia 

Japanese conduct a flower festival on Sri Buddha’s birthday every year, and it falls on April 8. Buddha’s birthday is known as Visak Bochea. The flower festival is similar to Atham competitions of Kerala, conducted as a part of Onam celebrations. Similarly people of Cambodia too welcome their New Year by preparing pookkalams. They celebrate the event on April 12 every year, that’s almost matching with New Year celebrations of India such as Ugadi, Baisakhi, Pohela Boishakh,Vishu etc.
Philippines too own a festival similar to Kerala’s Onam. Children collect flowers, and prepare garlands and pookkalams, which is quite similar to kids of Kerala who make pookkalams at homes by collecting flowers from paddy fields and neighbouring houses. Children use those garlands to decorate churches. A month-long annual flower festival is conducted at Baguio, and is named Panagbenga Festival. Kamehameha festival of Hawai Islands too holds similarities with Kerala’s Onam, as they too prepare pookkalams to celebrate the eve.

Flower festival of Belgium in the month of September 

Gigantic flower carpet made at City Place, Brussels

September is the spring season in Belgium, and they too make wide pookkalams. It’s almost the same time when Onam is celebrated in Kerala. They celebrate the event to welcome spring after winter, and they do so by making flower carpets. But there is a difference. Instead of homes, they make floral decorations on roadside. The gigantic flower carpet made in rectangle shape in the capital city, Brussels is indeed famous across the world. The huge flower carpet is laid once in two years at Grand Place, the historic center of the city using colorful begonias. Nearly 1 million flowers will be used to make the carpet. 

Square Pookkalam of Italy 

A close watch of flower pattern laid at Spello’s Infiorate

Pookkalam of Italy – Spello’s Infiorate is very famous, and it has gained tourist attraction too. It’s made in square shapes, and foreigners also reach Italy to see their floral decorations. It’s a true display of arts and culture of Italy, and made on the ninth Sunday after Easter. 

Flower festivals in other states of India 

Flower festivals, similar to Pookkalam of Kerala are conducted in other parts of the country also. Boishakh is the flower festival of Bengalis where children travel through streets to collect flowers. The new year is celebrated as Pohela Boishakh, and normally falls on April 14 or 15th, when Vishu is celebrated in Kerala. It’s the beginning of New Year as per Indian calendar. People wear new dresses and go about socialising. New business activities are also started during this occasion, and Bengali Hindu traders purchase new accounting book. It’s widely celebrated in Bangladesh and Indian state Tripura too. May be influenced by Kerala culture, till recent times some temples of Madhura (Tamil Nadu) made pookkalams in the Malayalam month Chingam, when Onam is celebrated.

Osiris – Mahabali of Egypt 

Bronze statue of Osiris placed at
Naturhistorisches Museum, Vienna

There is a celebration in Egypt almost similar to Onam. Not only do Egyptians prepare pookkalams, they also own a king similar to Maveli. His name is Osiris, and is believed to visit his subjects once in every year. He comes from hell too, similar to Maveli! 

The story goes like this. Osiris was a good king who cared his subjects a lot. He had one brother named Set who was cruel and greedy. Zeth killed the good king, but the good king was brought to life by gods. Yet he was not willing to rule the kingdom and also decided to live his rest life in hell. Egyptians believe that there good king annually visits them when they start cultivating crops every year.

Before I conclude 

Pookkalam displayed at Thrissur Railway Station

Let me say a few words of Pookkalam (floral carpet) of harvest festival of Kerala State, India. Regional festivals follow Malayalam calendar and Onam falls on the first month of this calendar. To welcome their emperor Mahabali, Keralites celebrate the event. They also make colourful floral decorations on courtyards for 10 days, following some traditional rules.   

If you come across any other festival similar to our Onam, please let me know.
Images: Courtesy Wikipedia
Go through the gallery to read a few more interesting articles on fun, recreation, myths and traditions associated with Onam season. Here is the page link. Click on the images to read.
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A freelance writer and blogger by profession since October 2011, interested in writing over a wide range of topics. Hope you enjoy my writings. I belong to one of the beautiful places of the world, Kerala, nicknamed as 'God's own country'.

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