A celebration to honour the kind-hearted and much-beloved demon King Mahabali, who isbelieved to return to Kerala (my home state in India) during Onam. This harvest festival is the main festival among us Keralites (that is, people from Kerala) and marks the beginning of the Malayalam year, called Kolla Varsham. Malayalam is the official language of the State.
According to Vaishnava mythology, King Mahabali, or Maveli as we called him affectionately, defeated the Gods and began ruling over all three worlds. The Gods got insecure of Maveli’s popularity and Lord Vishnu decided to step in to contain him. Vishnu took on his fifth avatar, as the dwarf Vamana, and paid a visit to the king. Maveli asked Vamana what he wished for, to which Vamana responded, “three footsteps of land”. When Vamana was granted his wish, he grew in size and in his first and second step he covered the sky and the netherworld. When Lord Vishnu was about to take his third step on the earth, Maveli bent down and offered his own head for the God to step on. This selfless act to save his people impressed Lord Vishnu so much that he granted Maveli the right to visit his kingdom every year during Onam.
Rituals of Onam
During the ten-day festivities, we wear traditional clothes (a white and gold saree called the Kasavu saree), perform dances, sing folk songs, make flower arrangements (rangolis) called pookkalam and cook traditional feasts called sadya.
The traditional feast
The traditional Onam sadya (feast) is a 9-course meal that consists of 26 dishes served on banana leaves.
During Covid-19, we are advised to celebrate Onam within our homes.