Onam is a harvest festival celebrated each year in the month of Chingam. Celebrations begin on Atham and usually end on the 10th day known as Thiru Onam. The festival isn't restricted to the Hindus. People, irrespective of their caste and religion celebrate the festival with enthusiasm and fervour.
The legend of Onam
King Mahabali was a famous king in ancient times. In spite of belonging to the Asura dynasty, he was a benevolent and kind ruler. An ardent devotee of Lord Vishnu, it is believed that Mahabali had conquered most parts of the Universe, the heavens included. This had petrified the rulers of the heaven, the Devas who then sought the help of Lord Vishnu to reclaim their lost kingdom. Lord Vishnu descended on the earth in the guise of a dwarf Vamana to test Mahabali and persuade him to give back the Devas their kingdom. Vamana appeared in front of Mahabali who was amidst an Aswamedha Yajna, and had previously declared that if anyone asked anything during the Yajna, he wouldn't hesitate to provide whatever was sought. Taking advantage of this, Vamana asked Mahabali for just three strides of land. Mahabali readily agreed to Vamana's demands and as the Vamana prepared to take the first step, he dramatically grew to a size that was so enormous that the entire earth could be covered in just one step. The heavens were measured in his next step. When Vamana asked Mahabali where he should put his foot, since the whole of the earth and heavens had been covered in two strides, the generous Mahabali bowed down to Vamana and offered him to place his foot on his head to be able to successfully fulfill his promise. Vamana then placed his foot on Mahabali, pushing him into the underworld. However, this was not to be the end of the Mahabali. Lord Vishnu was so impressed with Mahabali's sincerity and generosity that he made him the ruler of the underworld. He also granted him his wish to visit his kingdom once every year. Onam is celebrated as the homecoming of the great Mahabali.
There are various interesting traditions associated with the festival. Some of the popular customs and rituals practiced during Onam are listed below.
Pookalams are designs similar to Rangoli but instead of colours flowers are used. Pookalam has become an important part of the festival. It is believed that King Mahabali visits houses with the most beautiful Pookalam. The women also participate in Kaikotti Kalli, a special dance performed during Onam.
While the women and children make Pookalams, the men engage in more vigorous games like Boat racing and Archery. Boat racing is a popular sport practiced in the southern part of India and Onam sees the sport in all its glory. Special boat races are organized; some of the famous ones are Aranmula Boat Race and Nehru Trophy Boat Race. Other than Boat races, other sports played during the festival include Kayyankali and Attakalam, a form of martial arts native to Kerala.
Sadhya is an elaborate meal consisting of 25 dishes prepared during the festival. This special Onam feast is served on a banana leaf complete with a sweet dish which is usually Payasam at the end.
The elders in the family gift the younger members of the family 'Onakkodi' which means new clothes and usually are Mundu and Saree, the traditional wear of the people of Kerala.
Special performances and processions
Caparisoned elephant processions are also carried out during the festival in some parts of Kerala. Kathakali dancers and Pulikali performers enthrall the audiences. A person dressed as King Mahabali known as Onappottan visits houses and blesses people during the festival. However of late, this tradition has been discontinued and is now common only in villages and rural parts of the state.
Astroyogi.com wishes you a very Happy Onam. May Mahabali's blessings fulfill all your wishes and usher happiness and prosperity in your lives.