Onam is the biggest and most important festival in the state of Kerala, India. It is a harvest festival celebrated with joy and excitement by the people of all communities all over the state for 10 days. It is believed that Onam celebrations are started from the time of Kulasekhara Perumals (800 A.D). The Onam festival falls during the month of Chingam, the first month of Malayalam calendar (Kollavarsham). This corresponds with the months of August-September according to Gregorian calendar.
This festival is celebrated to welcome their king Mahabali from Patala ( the underworld), whose spirit is said to visit Kerala at the time of Onam. Nambudiri Brahmins of Kerala are the most spirited about Onam celebrations as they credit it’s origin to their own community.
Origin of Onam Festival:
Unlike many other festivals in India, Onam festival has several interesting legends behind its origin of which the legend of King Mahabali is a famous one.
The legend of King Mahabali:
Once there lived a wise and generous Asura (Demon) king, Mahabali. The name Mahabali itself means “Great Sacrifice”. He fulfilled his name as the great martyr for the sake of truth. He was highly regarded by his disciples and everyone was happy under his rule. Gods felt threat with the growing popularity of Mahabali and approached Lord Vishnu, who was worshiped by the king Mahabali for help. Mahabali,despite of having all the qualities of being sura (Devas), Lord Vishnu decided to test Mahabali and disguised himself into a poor and dwarf Brahmin, called vamana and visited Mahabali’s kingdom right after he completed morning prayers.
The disguised Lord Vishnu asked for land, as much as he could be covered by his three steps and the king made a promise to do so. Later, with the help of Shukracharya(a Daitya priest), who had visions about future told Mahabali that the Brahmin who came to take alms from him is Lord Vishnu. Ignoring the advice of Shukracharya not to fulfill the demand of Vamana, Mahabali decided to honour his promise.
Suddenly Vamana increased to a massive size, covering the whole earth with one step and the whole sky with another step. He then asked for a place to put his third step. Kind Mahabali having no place to offer, asked Vamana to put his third step on his head. Vamana did so pushing king Mahabali to Patala ( the underworld). These actions by Mahabali pleased Lord Vishnu and granted him a boon. King Mahabali, Deeply attached with his people, said he would like to visit Kerala and his people every year. Lord Vishnu granted king Mahabali’s request. This homecoming of their king Mahabali is celebrated as Onam every year.
Ten Day Onam Celebrations:
The rich heritage and spirit of Kerala state comes out in its best form during this ten day Onam celebrations. The first day “Atham” and tenth day “Thiruonam” are most important of all. The most impressive part of the celebrations is the grand feast called Onasadya, prepared on Thiruonam. It is a nine course meal consisting of 11 to 13 dishes served on banana leaves and people sit on a mat laid on the floor to have the meal.
Another fascinating feature of this festival is Vallamkali, the snake boat race held on the river Pampa. It’s a colorful sight to watch the decorated boat oared by hundreds of boatmen among chanting of songs and cheering by spectators.
There is also a tradition of playing numerous games on the occasion of Onam festival. It is also an ideal time to indulge in a little bit of amusing and sports. Men go in for rigorous sports like Talappanthukali (played with ball), Ambeyyal (Archery game), Kutukutu and combats called Kayyankali and Attakalam. Women indulge in cultural activities like making designed flower mats called Pookalam in the front courtyard of the house to welcome their king Mahabali. Kaikotti Kali and Thumbi Thullal are two elegant dances performed by Kerala women on Onam. Folk performances like Kummatti Kali and Pulikali spices up the celebrations.
You can share this joy to your friends by sending video invitations to join you in these celebrations giving them lifetime memorable moments. Also, you can send video greetings wishing them Onam festival wishes and blessings.