In India, Onam is a 10-day-long festival that celebrates the return of King Mahabali annually as well as the Vaman avatar of Lord Vishnu. It will be celebrated from August 12 this year. Whereas, the actual festival, which is widely celebrated in Kerala, will start with Thiruvonam on August 21. The third day of Onam will be August 22 whereas the final day falls on August 23.
According to the Malayalam calendar, the festival of Onam is celebrated on the day of Thiruvonam Nakshatram (Shravana asterism) in the month of Chingam. Although being a demon, King Mahabali was famous for his generous nature and kindness, and his reign is regarded as the golden era in Kerala, which is why his ‘return’ is so widely celebrated. As per the Vaishnava belief, it is said that Mahabali came to power by defeating the demigods and taking over the three worlds but demigods were unhappy with his popularity and asked for Lord Vishnu’s help in a battle to defeat the demon king. Lord Vishnu agreed to help but did not want to participate in a battle as Mahabali was his intense devotee. In order to help other demigods, he took the form of a poor dwarf Brahmin (his Vamana avatar from the Dasavatara) and visited Mahabali, asked the king to grant him three wishes. The dwarf Brahmin kindly requested the property right over a piece of land that measures “three paces”, to which Mahabali agreed. Suddenly, the dwarf Brahman grew his size and covered everything Mahabali ruled over in just two steps. It is said that for the third step, Mahabali offered his head. Lord Vishnu was impressed by Mahabali’s devotion and good deeds, therefore, he allowed him to return to earth once a year, and Onam is considered to be his annual visit that is celebrated with much fanfare as the festival.
In Kerela, the festival of Onam is also celebrated as a rice harvest festival. In Kerela, the preparations of Onam start 10 days ahead of the three prominent days. The people make ‘flower mats’ known as Pookalam (a flower rangoli) in their courtyards, a welcoming sign for the king Mahabali. The grand feasts prepared on this occasion which is known as ‘Onasadya’. Usually, the feast consists of 13 dishes and the food is served on banana leaves. The food commonly comprises rice along with different dishes, pickles, and papads. A sweet dish called ‘payasam’ is very important among all dishes during Onam and it is made of rice, milk, sugar, and coconut.
On the occasion of Onam, Vallamkali or boat race is also a very important sport during Onam celebrations. There are snake-shaped boats rowed by hundreds of rowers compete with each other. However, owing to the pandemic, the celebrations this year are anticipated to be restricted as thousands of people gathered to watch the competition. The celebrations of Onam also include traditional dance, music, and games that are collectively called Onakalikal. All this is organized to show King Mahabali that his people are prosperous and happy and welcoming him in all possible ways.
We wish all of our readers, their acquaintances, and family members a very Happy Onam.
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