Onam is one of the biggest celebrations in Kerala, celebrated by the Malayalis. The traditional festivity happens for ten long days, during which the people of Kerala welcome the arrival of their King Mahabali. It is said that king Bali used to rule over Kerala in the olden times. Due to a wish of Vishnu, Bali started living in the Patal Loka and left Kerala. Since then, he comes every year during Onam to visit his kingdom and his people. Hence Kerala people worship Bali as their King and celebrate Onam on his arrival.
Onam is one of the vibrant festivals of the state, during which everything gets infused with colors and traditions. This is also the best time to visit Kerala for those who want to witness the authentic taste of this land. The God’s Own Country Kerala has become rich and prosperous with traditions and rituals that make Onam a unique experience.
Every year Onam happens in the month of Chingam as per the Malayali calendar, which is the month of August/September as per the Gregorian calendar.
There are mythologies for which Onam is celebrated. In the texts of Bhagavata Purana, there is a mention of King Mahabali, the King of asuras. He was a demon king but compassionate and giving from the heart. He was the ruler of entire Kerala, and during his kingdom, Kerala flourished like heaven. However, the devas felt threatened by Mahabali since his power and popularity were increasing daily.
All the devas then went to Lord Vishnu and asked for help. Lord Vishnu then went to King Mahabali in an avatar of a poor Brahmin. Bali then asked the Brahmin his wish, upon which the Brahmin asked for the land equal to his three footprints. The King didn’t give it much thought and granted the boon.
The Brahmin turned into his real form, the gigantic Vishnu. Vishnu put his one foot on all of Earth and his second in the Universe. He asked Bali for the space for his third feet, upon which Bali offered Vishnu his head. With this, Vishnu sent Bali to live in Patal Loka and leave Earth. However, pleased with the devotion of Bali, Vishnu offered him immortality and allowed him to visit Earth once a year to check upon his kingdom and people.
Hence Onam is celebrated to welcome the King when he visits Kerala and his people.
How Is Onam Celebrated?
Onam first started as a harvest festival as it is the season when fresh paddy crop or rice is harvested. Now it has become a fully-fledged traditional festival that lasts ten days. The festivity is massive, and tourists come from worldwide. Many traditional performances and acts take place; Kerala is worth visiting during the Onam as the entire land looks charming.
Many activities happen, and the whole state shows great pomp and enthusiasm. There are boat races, dance forms, singing, colorful art, flower decorations, meals, and more.
Onapookalam, for example, is one of the activities that mark Onam’s beginning. This is a beautiful representation of colorful flowers performed on the floor. All family members come together and help each other with the design. Many competitions also occur in many cities of Kerala, such as schools and colleges.
This is the famous boat race competition which no one wants to miss. Thousands of tourists flock to Kerala just to witness this enthralling boat race. The boats are prepared and decorated especially for this festival. These are very long boats that many men pedal. There are many teams, and each team comes with its own boat. The boat song is sung, and the crowd cheers the canoers. There are many places where this festival happens, including Alleppey, the Pampa River of Kerala.
The Kathakali is the most traditional dance of Kerala, which happens during Onam. This dance form is centuries old and is performed by Kathakali artists. These artists give a magical performance; they adorn themselves with dance dresses, wear wooden masks, and participate in the dance. Several other dance forms also happen such as Thiruvathira, Pulikali, Kummattikali, Thumbi Thullal, and Onam Kali,.
Onasadya: The Feast
Sadya is the big feast that is prepared during Onam. A total of 29 dishes are prepared by every household and enjoyed together with the family. All these dishes are served on the banana in the traditional Kerala style.
It is believed that Onam was first celebrated in the Vamanamoorthy Temple in Thrikkakara, Ernakulam, near Kochi. This is the temple of Lord Vamana, the poor Brahmin who appeared before King Mahabali. The temple has the spot where the King was sent to Patal Loka. Hence, people visit this temple during Onam and witness the very spot.