Onam is one of the most important festivals celebrated in Kerala. It is celebrated with much fanfare all over Kerala and by Malayalis around the world irrespective of their religion. It is actually a 10-day festival that concludes on the day of Thiruvonam, which – as per folklore – is said to be the day when their much-loved demon king Mahabali visits earth to know the wellbeing of his people.
Onam is the biggest festival celebrated by Malayalis and it is celebrated with throughout the state of Kerala. It is observed during the month of Chingam, the first month of the Malayalam calendar. It is celebrated for 10 days with the celebrations beginning on atham and culminates on the tenth day known as ‘thiruvonam’. There are several customary celebrations during the Onam with snake boat races, Pulikali and several other cultural events including thiruvathira and Onam pookalam.
Legend Behind Onam
Onam is celebrated to welcome and honor a demon king named ‘Mahabali’ who ruled Kerala long ago. As per legend, it is believed that King Mahabali visits Kerala during Onam and the festival is celebrated to welcome him. Although a demon, Mahabali was known to be generous and kind, and his reign was considered as a golden era in Kerala and it is the reason why his ‘return’ is so widely celebrated.
Vaishnava mythology says that Mahabali came to power after defeating the gods and took over the 3 worlds. Despite being a demon, Mahabali was a just and kind ruler and his people loved him. Gods were unhappy with his popularity and asked for Lord Vishnu’s help in a battle against Mahabali. Vishnu did not want to go to war against Mahabali as he was an ardent devotee of Lord Vishnu but agreed to help the gods. Vishnu took the form of a poor dwarf Brahmin and asked the king to grant him “three feet” of land. Mahabali agreed to this not knowing that he the poor Brahmin was, in fact, a god.
Soon, the dwarf grew in size and covered the whole heaven and Earth just two steps. For the third step, the King offered his head and sank him to the underworld. Impressed by Mahabali’s devotion and good deeds, Vishnu allowed him to return to earth once a year to meet his people — it is this annual visit of their dear king that the people of Kerala celebrate as Onam.
Celebrations During Onam
In order to welcome their beloved King, people make ‘flower mats’ known as Pookalam in front of their house and prepare a grand meal called the Onasadya (a nine-course meal consisting of 10-13 dishes, including rice, sambar, avial, rasam, payasam). The onasadya is on the main day of Onam known as ‘Thiruvonam’. Celebrations also include several other traditional dance, music and games that differ from different places in Kerala, that are collectively called Onakalikal. ‘Pulikali’, a performance that revolves around the theme of tiger hunting is one of the big attraction during the Onam. All these celebrations are done to show King Mahabali that his people are prosperous and happy, so that he can return to the neitherworld without any worries.
Onam is considered to be one the busiest shopping seasons in Kerala. Elder members of the family, usually gift others with new clothes, which is called ‘Onakkodi’, and relatives visit each others house.
No Onam Celebrations at Vazhiyorakkada this year.
However, this year, because of the floods that happened in Kerala, we will not have any celebrations or ‘onasadhya’ at Vazhiyorakkada. Although we used to have onasadya every year with all the traditional Kerala dishes, we will not be celebrating this year as a symbol to take part in the sorrows of those affected by the rain and flood in Kerala last month. As part of our Vazhiyorakkada family, we wish each and every one of you a very Happy and Prosperous Onam.