Some Onam Symbols, Games and Activities in Malayalam and English

Posted On: August 24, 2015

Maveli- The King who Represents Onam

Countless representations of Maveli pop up almost overnight throughout Kerala as Onam nears. Maveli is one of the iconic onam symbols and ‘mascot’ of Onam, just as Santa is for some at Christmas. Though Maveli can look a little different in different forms, there are a few common characteristics that must be there:

  • He must be carrying an umbrella. I am sure that is a special type of umbrella that goes by a Malayalam word, but I am not sure what that is. 
  • I have also usually seen him with a mustache and pot belly, that always, always, always is bare (unlike Santa’s). 
  • Maveli wears traditional Kerala men’s attire – the mundu around the waist and one draped like a kind of scarf around his neck. Regarding the jewelry – neckaces and wrist- others can fill us in on that. 
  • The thread along the belly from sholder to waist must also be symbolic.
  • And, to top it off, no Mahveli is complete without a crown! (He is a king, afterall!)

On the signboard above, there are also two tigers drawn, one at each bottom corner. This represents pulikali. Puli means tiger, kali means play. People dress up like tigers.They react scenes of tigers being caught by humans.

So, what is Onam? Onam is a holiday unique to Kerala and Keralites in India. If you work with an offshore development team or BPO in Kochi, Ernakulam or Kakkanad (Infopark), I would like to show you a few photos of how some of the companies and community prepares for Onam.

The purpose of this post is mostly to share images of community decorations and preparations. If you would like to read about the actual celebrations, click here, or the story of Onam, click here.


Onam wishes at Geo Infopark

Based on my limited Malayalam reading ability, I think it says
Onaghosham 2015  –  Geo Infopark  – Kinfra – Kakkanad  –  Onamashamsagal

(Line 1 may say “Onam festivities”, Line two and three list the location. Line 4 says “Onam greetings.”)

What are English Translations of Malayalam Words Used for Onam?

Onakaineetam - Onam offering given by hand

What is Onakaineetam – ഓണക്കൈനീതം?
This is an offering (neetam) by hand (kai – കൈ) done on the occasion of Onam. This poster asks us to donate clothes for the needy. There are also rice donation spots, which go by a different word in Malayalam.


Get your Onam feast delivered to your home!

Sadya Delivery
Sadya (സാധ്യ) is the name of the feast with over 30 curries served on a banana leaf. Now a days, many families may order sadya instead of cooking at home, as there are more nuclear families.


Payasam - Rice pudding of Kerala

What is Payasam പായസം? 
Onam is the season for a whole bunch of kinds of payasam. Payasam is a milk based pudding made of different rices or pulses with fruits or nuts added.


Geo Infopark Onam Festival Program Schedule
Announcement of Onam Events 



The public announcement is posted on the building’s bulliten board in the reception area. Let’s see what are the items on the agenda. 

What is the Onapookkalam – ഓണപ്പൂക്കളം?
Creation of an Onam flower design that is placed on the floor

What is a Chendmelam – ചെന്ഡ്മെലാം?
Traditional drummers of Kerala. This is usually done during Varavelpu – വരവേൽപു, or the entry of Maveli.

What is the Onappattukal- ഓണപ്പാട്ടുകള് ?
Onam songs

Tug of War – Vadamvali 
A popular sport played on Onam. Tug of war is translated as “വടംവലി” or “vadamvali in Malayalam.

Uriyadi – ഉരിയാടി
A person holds a stick with a clay pot attached to it.  Partygoers are blindfolded and given a stick until one person hits and breaks it. To make it more interesting, the person holding the stick with the pot to be broken, moves the stick around creating confusion for the person trying to break it. When the pot breaks, water is showered on the lucky pot-breaker!

Lemon and spoon 
This is a team event, where each member has to run a course with a spoon in their mouth, balancing a lemon.

Muscial Chairs 

What is the Onasadya (ഒനസദ്യ)?
Onam feast

Something missing from this list, but I’m looking forward to seeing is thiruvathira, the traditional Kerala dress for ladies.

Santa gets milk and cookies, while Maveli gets a 30 course meal! See the fun comparison of Maveli and Santa in the image below.

Santa vs. Maveli


Jennifer Kumar works with distributed and global agile software development teams to communicate more impactfully across cultural borders. Check out training and coaching programs here.

Posts about Onam:
Symbols of Kerala
Office parties and celebrations for Onam
When is Onam and other Indian and American holidays in 2016?


Copyright Authentic Journeys. Do not reprint in entirety. Refer to this article with up to not more than 3 sentences with a link back to this blog. This blog can be shared on your blog with a link without a quote as well. Get in touch with us to do a link share.

Note: Any company names or brands shown in images are for demonstration purposes only and are purely coincidental. Authentic Journeys has no ties with any of these businesses nor is Authentic Journeys receiving any advertising revenue from mentioning them here. 

Cover photo, freepic, All other photos taken by Jennifer Kumar, blog owner. 
Original publishing date: 8/15, updated 6/2020


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