Onam - Kerala’s Carnival
Onam, a major festival of Kerala, has been an essential part of Malayalee culture since time immemorial. Though it is difficult to find a definitive start for the festival, it is believed to have begun around 800 A.D. The festival is celebrated in the Malayalam month of Chingam (August-September).
Reminiscent Of Kerala's Agrarian Past
The earliest recorded proof of Onam can be traced to the reign of Kulasekhara Perumals. It was celebrated as a harvest festival. It is a reminder of prosperity and growth that filled the lives of the natives. Food grains were produced in abundance, and both families, and the state were benefited as famine never became an issue to worry about.
Mahabali – The Great Sacrifice
Another prominent reason to celebrate Onam lies in the legendary life of the demon king – Mahabali. He was a rather judicious and kind-hearted king of Kerala. He was not only illustrious but also powerful. Lord BrahmaBrahma
According to Hinduism, the whole creation is the work of Trimurti (the Hindu Trinity)... granted him a boon which made him invincible and undisputed ruler of all three worlds, i.e., earth, heaven and hell.
The Gods were worried as they could not allow a demon king to have that kind of power and authority. After numerous requests and complaints from them, Lord VishnuVishnu
Vishnu is one of the Supreme Gods of Hindus and is a part of Hindu Trinity,.. decided to overthrow Mahabali. Knowing that Bali rejoiced in helping the poor and needy, Vishnu went to meet him disguised as a Brahmin The conventional Hindu caste system divided society into four sects and Brahmin was known as the learned class who gained the knowledge of sacred texts written on Hinduismnamed Vamana.
The king was happy to offer anything the Brahmin required and gave him his word even after his Guru Shukracharya warned him against it. VamanaVamana
In VAMANA Avatar, Vishnu incarnates himself as a dwarf priest... manipulatively asked for land that could be measured in three steps of his to which Bali readily agreed. Vamana then increased his own size and measured the entire earth with one step and heaven with another. So as to complete his promise, Bali asked Vishnu to place his foot on Bali’s head to execute the third step, which instantly sent Bali to the nether world.
His Heart Lay With His People
The love Bali felt for his kingdom was immense and pure. Thus, he requested Vishnu to allow him to visit earth once in a year. This mythical annual homecoming of Mahabali to meet his subjects is celebrated as Onam. In Mahabali’s kingdom, no one stole, lied or committed any other sin and to pay homage and respect to their perfect king, people of Kerala observe the festive season of Onam with tremendous devotion.
Ways of Celebrating Onam
Pookkalam are the beautiful designs drawn in front of the gate of the house with the help of flowers on Onam. Many competitions are held to appreciate the unique and beautiful design. People also prepare grant feast. They serve food on banana leaves that consist of four to five vegetables. This tradition is called Onasadya. Various physical activities are also a part of the day. Men indulge themselves in the game of balls and archery whereas women perform traditional dances like Mummatti KaliKali
There are several traditions of how Kali came into existence... (The Mask Dance), Pulikali, Thumbi Thullal etc. This tradition is called Onakalikal. Another striking feature of the event is the elephant procession in which elephants are majestically decorated and brought in front of people. A traditional event of snake boat race, also known as Vallamkali Boat race also takes place in which about 100 boatmen compete in a boat riding competition.
The Legend of Boat Race
Giving alms to the poor is one of the traditions of Onam, and even this action has a valid reasoning. Several years ago, a boat loaded with food got stuck in a narrow curve of a river. Every effort made to free it was futile. Bhattathiripad – the head of the boat’s crew – then decided to seek help from the inhabitants of a hut near the shore.
As he came close to the hut, he heard a widow crying. When asked the reason of her tears, she pointed towards her children who slept hungry as she had nothing to feed them with. Bhattathiripad went back to a boat to bring food and fed the miserable family. As soon as the stomach of the poor got filled, the boat started moving. Since then, the tradition of feeding the poor on Onam has been followed and is considered auspicious.
Onam is all about rejoicing in the beauty of the past and the simplicity of the present times. The people of Kerala leave behind all their bad thoughts and deeds to harbor the feeling of harmony and brotherhood in society. Merry making and family get-togethers symbolize the zeal and enthusiasm with which the festival is celebrated for ten days.