The Thiruvonam story. According to legend, the state of Kerala was once ruled by an Asura (demon) king, Mahabali. The king was considered to be wise and extremely generous. He was greatly respected. It is said that Kerala witnessed its Golden era during his reign. It is said that there was no discrimination between class or caste during his rule.
Such was the popularity of King Mahabali that the Gods became jealous and strategized getting rid of him. King Mahabali was an ardent worshipper of Lord Vishnu. Due to the king’s nature of extreme charity, Lord Vishnu decided to test the King by disguising himself as a poor Brahmin called Vamana.
Lord Vishnu disguised as Vamana requested the King for as much land as would be covered by his three steps. As the King agreed to grant the land, Vamana expanded to cosmic proportions.
With his first step he covered the whole of Earth, with the second he covered the whole of the skies. On realizing that Vamana was not an ordinary Brahmin and that his third step would destroy Earth, Mahabali with hands folded bowed down asking Vamana to place his last step on his head. Vamana’s final step pushed the King to Pathala, the nether world.
Lord Vishnu revealed his true identity to Mahabali and told him that he had won the test and granted him a wish.Owing to the King’s attachment to his Kingdom and people, he requested Lord Vishnu that he be allowed to visit Kerala once a year. Lord Vishnu granted the King his wish. And thus was born Onam.
Onam is the festival of harvest and the festival of rain flowers, which extends over a period of ten days celebrating the yearly visit of King Mahabali to visit his kingdom and people. Of all these days, the most important are the first day, Atham, and the tenth and final day, Thiru-Onam (Thiruvonam).
The Keralite people engage in various rituals and activities some of them being the Onapookkalam (a work of art made out of several varieties of flowers of differing tints pinched up into little pieces), the Onamsadhya (a vegetarian feast served on banana leaves consisting of about 26 dishes), vallamkali (snake boat race) as well as music and dance.
The beauty of Onam lies in the fact that although this is supposed to be a Hindu festival, people of all religions eagerly wait and celebrate Onam which provides a sense of oneness.
“KaanamVittumOnamUnnanam” which means “One must have the Onam lunch even if one is forced to sell his property” – famous Malayalam proverb.
We had a quiet Onam at home. Traditional clothes, our humble sadhya, and the Pookalam along with the company of good friends. We had it all. It was a special Onam. It being the first Onam celebration with my Son. We managed to get a small dhoti wrapped around his waist, of course ,secured with a belt.
Happy Onam !