Thiruvonam, often simply referred to as Onam, is the most significant day in the ten-day-long Onam festival celebrated in Kerala, India. The festival, rooted in both myth and tradition, is a blend of cultural, religious, and social elements that have evolved over centuries. To understand Thiruvonam, one must delve into the legend of King Mahabali and the origins of the Onam festival.
Legend of King Mahabali: Mahabali, or Maveli, was a benevolent Asura king under whose reign Kerala witnessed a golden era. It’s said that during his rule, there was no dishonesty, corruption, or malice. Everyone was equal, and there was no discrimination based on caste or class.However, Mahabali’s increasing influence became a concern for the Devas (gods) as he was an Asura (demon) by birth. They approached Lord Vishnu for help. Responding to their plea, Lord Vishnu took the form of Vamana, a Brahmin dwarf, and came to Mahabali’s court.Mahabali, known for his generosity, offered Vamana anything he wished. Vamana asked for three paces of land. When Mahabali agreed, Vamana grew in size and covered the Earth and the heavens in two steps. For the third step, Mahabali, realizing the dwarf’s true identity, offered his own head. Vamana placed his foot on Mahabali’s head, pushing him to the netherworld.However, touched by Mahabali’s humility and generosity, Lord Vishnu granted him a boon: he could visit his subjects once a year. This annual return of King Mahabali is celebrated as Onam.
Thiruvonam – The Tenth Day: Thiruvonam is the tenth and final day of the Onam celebrations and is considered the most auspicious. It’s believed that on this day, King Mahabali visits the homes of his subjects. To welcome their beloved king:
- Pookalams (floral carpets) are laid out in front of homes, with the designs being the grandest on Thiruvonam.
- A grand feast, known as Onasadya, is prepared. This vegetarian meal, served on a banana leaf, can consist of over 20 dishes.
- Traditional games, dances, and songs are performed, celebrating the legacy of Mahabali and the cultural heritage of Kerala.