Though Onam is Kerala's national festival, not many Malayalis have heard about "pilleronam," an Onam exclusive for children.
To the uninitiated, "Pilleronam" (piller is Malayalam for children) is celebrated on the Thiruvonam star in the Malayalam month of Karkidakam, which falls on August 11 this year. "Pilleronam" brings back the memories of "Onathumbi" (globe skimmer) and songs associated with the grand harvest festival.
Preparing for Thiruvonam
"Pilleronam" is celebrated the same way as of Thiruvonam. People wear new clothes, and an elaborate feast will be prepared. Preparations for Thiruvonam begins on the day of "Pilleronam."
There is a view that the Thiruvonam day in Karkidakam is dedicated to Vamanan, the fifth incarnation of God Vishnu, while Thiruvonam in the month of Chingam belongs to Maveli, the benevolent demon king who ruled Kerala.
The "Pilleronam" is also known as "Avani Avittom," signifying a new beginning of learning the holy scriptures. For Brahmins, it is the day of "Upakarmam", signifying the commencement, on which they wear a new sacred thread (Janeyu or Yajnopavit) discarding the older one.
It is believed that past sins are discarded into water along with the older sacred thread. Janeyu denotes the beginning of new duties.
Though the celebrations are not as elaborate as Thiruonam, small-scale floral carpets are laid in front of the houses on "Pilleronam" day. In olden days, mothers used to make "unniyappam" (small, spherical fritters made with rice, banana, jaggery, roasted coconut pieces and sesame seeds and cardamom), a snack dear to children. In some parts of Kerala, children adorn their hands with henna designs.
Pilleronam and Thrikkakara Appan
The 28-day Onam celebrations at Thrikkakara temple dedicated to Vamanan used to begin on the Thiruvonam day of Karkkadakam. The King Perumal had ordered that those who did not attend the festival on Pilleronam must hold celebrations with Thrikkakara Appan's idol for 10 days from the next Atham day.
The king also decreed to celebrate Thiruvonam as the birthday of Thrikkakara Appan. Malayalis used to celebrate the "pilleronam", which falls 28 days before Thiruvonam, and the “28th Onam” after as many days after Thiruvonam with much fervour.
Decking up for prosperity
The month of Karkidakam was once one of famine and suffering. Famished children waited through the Karkidakam rains for "pilleronam," on which they decked up in available fineries to welcome the days of prosperity.
A sumptuous spread was also prepared on "Pilleronam" or "Pillaonam," the day on which children feasted to fill after days of famine, and wait for the big day, the Thirvonam. Parents, satisfied on seeing their children happy, too, start preparing for the harvest festival.
The nostalgic "Pilleronam", which heralds Thiruvonam, has over the years lost its significance, especially among the younger generation.