The Legend of King Mahabali: The story of Onam is deeply rooted in Hindu mythology. King Mahabali, a demon king, was known for his wisdom, generosity, and benevolence. Under his reign, Kerala witnessed its golden era. People were happy, and there was no discrimination on the basis of caste or class. Due to his popularity, the gods felt threatened and sought the help of Lord Vishnu to curb Mahabali’s growing influence.Lord Vishnu took the form of a dwarf Brahmin, Vamana, and approached King Mahabali for alms. The generous king promised to grant Vamana anything he wished for. Vamana asked for land that could be covered in three paces. When the king agreed, Vamana transformed into a giant form, covering the earth with one step and the sky with the second. Realizing that Vamana was no ordinary being, King Mahabali offered his head for the third step. Vamana placed his foot on the king’s head, pushing him to the netherworld.However, touched by King Mahabali’s devotion and humility, Lord Vishnu granted him a boon. Mahabali expressed his desire to visit his people once a year. Thus, Onam is celebrated to mark the annual return of King Mahabali to Kerala.
Celebrations: Onam festivities span ten days, starting from Atham and culminating on Thiruvonam. The celebrations include:
- Pookalam: Floral carpets are laid in front of homes to welcome King Mahabali.
- Onasadya: A grand feast consisting of 9 to 26 dishes, served on banana leaves.
- Vallamkali: Snake boat races held on the Pampa River.
- Pulikali: A dance where performers paint themselves like tigers and enact hunting scenes.
- Onappottan: A traditional costume of olden days Kerala.
- Thrikkakarayappan: Clay pyramids representing Vishnu’s Vamana incarnation.
Cultural Significance: Onam is not just a festival but a symbol of Kerala’s rich cultural heritage. It’s a time when families come together, irrespective of religion or caste. The festival emphasizes values like humility, devotion, and the spirit of giving. The grand feast, Onasadya, signifies abundance and gratitude towards nature for the bountiful harvest.