New clothes are integral to Onam festivities. Elders gift ‘onakkodi’ or ‘onappudava‘ (‘kodi’ means new and ‘pudava’ means cloth in Malayalam) to younger members in the family.
Mundu and saree, the traditional wears of men and women of Kerala, are the usual gifts. Kasavu mundu and kasavu saree, hand-woven wears with golden brocades, are in high demand during the Onam season. Infants and kids are presented ‘chittada’ or small dresses which may be a small ‘mundu’.
Today, people also present modern dresses as ‘onakkodi’ considering convenience and utility.
Apart from new clothes, everything else is also on the shopping list of the Keralite during Onam. During this time of the most frenetic economic activity in the state, huge discounts, special sales, Onam markets, various offers and the 10-day school holiday ensure that the Keralite goes on a guilt-free shopping spree, usually with the entire family in tow.
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In the feudal days of yore, it was customary, rather, mandatory for tenants who were cultivating land to offer some part of their agricultural produce to the zamindars, the landowners. This was known as Onakkaazhcha, the Onam offering. These included fruits, vegetables and other items. Skilled workers like carpenters or bell metal workers would offer things representative of their occupation. This was known as Onam vekkuka - offering Onam. After receiving the offerings, the landowners would give the tenants a feast and return gifts called the Onalavu (alavu means measure). There is also a practice of taking the best of vegetables, fruits and other harvest produce to temples as offerings to the deity.
Today, this custom can be seen only in a few parts of the State where the feudal culture still prevails. However, it is being observed as an important ritual in some temples, the most notable among them being the Guruvayoor temple.
Traditionally, Onam used to be celebrated mostly as a private affair till recently when the State Government decided to step in for added vigour. It is now more than a decade since the government started chipping in with its share of festival bonanzas. The weeklong celebration conducted by Kerala Tourism is held at major towns and cities and draws large number of people to its various venues. People throng these venues and are treated to a variety of cultural entertainments. At least a week before the Onam holidays, the ambience is set with the presence of Onam fairs and special markets, offering groceries, food items and clothes at reduced rates. A grand pageantry on the final day of the celebrations signals the conclusion of the state-sponsored celebrations.