Onam, the harvest festival of Kerala is just around the corner and Malayalees all around the world are gearing up to celebrate it. The festival kick-starts on the astrological sector Atham and goes on for ten days until Thiruvonam. The festival falls in Chingam, the first month of Malayalam solar calendar. This year, the festival begins officially on August 15 and ends on August 27. Like most Indian festivals, the story of Onam too has its roots in mythology. So what is the significance of this harvest festival and why does it call for a celebration?
It is believed that on the day of Onam, King Mahabali visits Kerala to meet his beloved people. Kerala receives tourists in large numbers during the festival. Onam shows the rich culture and heritage of the state of which one of the main attractions is the food. Traditional folk songs, dances, flower decorations, boat races are all a part of Onam in Kerala. Kerala Government Cancels Official Onam Celebrations as Floods Devastate State
The story behind the festival
According to mythology, the Asura king Mahabali ruled over Kerala and was much loved by his people. His kingdom flourished abundantly and they lacked nothing. The Gods became jealous of the king and his kingdom and thought he would grow powerful than them. Worried gods took the matter to Lord Vishnu to help them contain Mahabali. Lord Vishnu then took the form of the dwarf Brahmin Vaman, the fifth avatar of Vishnu and went to earth. Not knowing the Brahmin was Lord Vishnu, the king asked Vamana to ask for any of his wishes.
The poor Brahman asked for three paces of land to which the King readily agreed. Vishnu then grew in size and covered the earth and heaven in two steps. For the third step, Mahabali had to offer his head and thus the King was pushed down to the netherworld. Before that Vishnu granted his wish to visit his subjects once a year. It is believed that Lord Mahabali visits Mahabali his people on the first of Chingam.
Rituals and celebrations
Thrikkakara temple in Kochi, dedicated to Vamana god receives devotees in large numbers on Thiruvonam. The celebration at the temple begins by hosting a flag after which idol of Lord Vamana, one of the avatars of Lord Vishnu is taken out for a procession.
People take early morning bath and visit temples on the day of Onam. Celebrations begin with the arrangement of flowers (Pookalam), which is done on all the ten days outside homes symbolising the arrival of Lord Mahabali. Traditional dance performances and folk dances like Kaikottikali and Pulikali are significant parts of the celebrations during the festival. Boat races are another attraction of the season that pulls crowd from across countries.
The grand feast or Onasadya is one of the main highlights of the Onam. It includes a nine-course meal serving ten to thirteen dishes including rice, sambhar, rasam and payasam. The Kerala tourism ups their game every year around this season which attracts a lot of tourists. Attractive tour packages let people get a glimpse of the God's Own Country and celebrate Onam the traditional way.