Onam – God’s Own Celebration
- August 28, 2020
By Samyukhtha Sunil
Onam is a harvest festival celebrated majorly in the state of Kerala and by Malayalees around the world. It is the time when the serene and calm façade of ‘god’s own country’ turns into a vibrant riot of colours and music. According to the Malayalam calendar, the festival falls in the month of Chingam which usually corresponds to the month of August or September. Deeply rooted in ancient Keralite culture, the festival is celebrated with much gusto and fervour. The festival in its entirety lasts for around 10 days and its concluding tenth day is viewed as Thiruvonam when most of the events and festival traditions are observed amongst Malayali households across the globe.
The legend behind Onam
Illustration: Ketan Pal
There is an interesting tale associated with this vibrant festival of the south. It commemorates the home-coming of King Mahabali all the way from pataal lok. King Mahabali was the grandson of Prahlada, the great devotee of Vishnu. With his penance and power, he had defeated everyone including the devas. He was the ruler of the three worlds. Aditi, the mother of the devas, prayed to Vishnu seeking help for her sons. Vishnu promised to help her at the right time.
One day, as Mahabali was performing a yagna, Lord Vishnu visited him disguised as a poor Brahmin dwarf, Vamana. The generous and just Mahabali greeted him with respect and was willing to give all that the Brahmin wished for. Vamana said, “I only seek three paces of land measured by my stride.” Surprised by this request, Mahabali happily agreed to grant him the land that he requested for. However, Mahabali’s chief advisor Shukracharya sensed that Vamana was no ordinary man and asked the king to rethink his decision. Since Mahabali had already given his word, he refused to retract it. It was at this moment that the unimaginable happened. Vamana started to expand massively in cosmic proportions much to the disbelief of everyone present in the palace. With his first step, he covered the entire land on Earth and with the second step he covered the land in the heavenly skies. He then asked Mahabali for space to place his third footstep.
Realizing that Vamana, indeed, was no ordinary Brahmin, Mahabali folded his hands in respect and bowed in front of Vamana. He asked Vamana to place the third step on his head, despite knowing that this would push him to pataal or the underworld. Pleased by this gesture, Lord Vishnu revealed himself and offered a boon to Mahabali. The king, who was so deeply attached to his kingdom and his people, requested Lord Vishnu to allow him to visit his kingdom once a year.
Each of the ten days of celebration marks the progress of Mahabali’s journey back home, and has their own individual significance. However, it is the first and the last day that are especially important. Throughout the festival, the people of Kerala gear up with interesting preparations to welcome their beloved king. To make sure Mahabali doesn’t feel that his sacrifice went in vain, Malayalees dress in their finest, have elaborate feasts, decorate...