Onam is a festival celebrated by Hindus in Kerala, India. It falls on thethe first month of the Malayalam calendar month Chingam – between August and September and is also known as the harvest festival of Kerela.Onam is celebrated to commemorate and celebrate the return of King Mahabali, who the people of Kerala show great devotion towards. Mahabali’s reign was known as the golden era of Kerala. Everyone lived prosperous lives due to his generosity. Whatever the people asked for, Mahabali provided. The Gods were intimidated by how much Mahabali’s subjects idolised him; a mere mortal. As Mahabali was worshipped as a person would a god, there was a significant imbalance. As a result of this the mother of the gods, Aditi, turned to Lord Vishnu who the King was a huge devotee of.
Lord Vishnu decided to test the King to see if he was really true to his word. He sought to ask Mahabali for an impossible request, so the people of Kerala could see that he is nowhere near as powerful as the Gods. Lord Vishnu came down as one of his avatars, disguised as a poor Brahman dwarf, called Vamanan. Vamanan went to the King and asked him whether he can provide him with land worth three of his steps. The King, not seeing anything wrong with this request, granted it, although against the wishes of his learned advisor, Shukracharya.. Once Vamanan’s wish was granted, he turned back to his true form of Lord Vishnu. He grew so tall that his head could not be seen above the clouds. Once Lord Vishnu took two steps, he had no more land for the third. As Mahabali did not want to break his promise, and never had before, he went on his knees (still unaware that it was Lord Vishnu) and told Vamanan to place his third step on his head.
Lord Vishnu knew at this moment that the King was always true to his word and never deceived anyone. While Vamanan placed his foot on Mahabali’s head, the King started going down into the Earth, into the netherworld. This is when he realised who Vamanan truly was. Before he was completely removed from Earth, Mahabali requested one thing, which was to come back and see his people once every year. As Mahabali proved that he was a good man and a man of his word, Lord Vishnu granted his wish. The annual visit from Mahabali is what the people of Kerala celebrate today and what is known as Onam.
Onam is celebrated in the duration of ten days. The main two days are Atham (day one) and Thiruonam (day ten). Thiruonam marks the day of Mahabali’s return to see his people, whilst the prior days are everything in preparation for that. One of the main things that the people do to celebrate the occasion is make an athapoo, similar to a rangoli pattern, in front of their house from pookalaam (flowers). This is to greet Mahabali and welcome him back. Each day a different type of flower is added to the athapoo.
During this period, the traditional meal, Onasadya, is served on banana leaves and eaten.
As well as this, many public events take place such as; street parades/parties, plays and the well known Kathakali, where the story of Onam is portrayed through dance. Furthermore, people participate in different kinds of sports and games during this period, especially the grand boat race. This is the time that families get together, new clothes are bought and school holidays and work leave are given.
This year Thiruonam will be celebrated on 28 August 2015.