Onam is Kerala’s most important and beautiful festival. It is celebrated during the months of August end and September beginning. It is basically celebrated in the first month (Chingam) of Malayalam Calendar (Kollavarsham). Onam Festival is celebrated for ten days with great enthusiasm and happiness among everyone. Onam is called Thiru-Onam or Thiruvonam (Sacred Onam Day). Another name for the festival is the 'Sravanmahotsav'.
Why Onam is celebrated?
Onam is celebrated to signify two very auspicious Occassions:
1. King Mahabal visits the earth from his Underground kingdom (Patal) and blesses his subjects who leave no stone unturned to welcome their much revered king. Ten days festivities are associated with movement of King Mahabali from Patal to the time he reaches Earth and goes back to his world.
2. Onam is also celebrated as the harvest festival of Kerala. As the first month of Malayalam calendar brings harvest season in Kerala.
Ten days of Onam and their meaning
1. Atham: Pookalam is designed only with yellow flowers. Pookalam’s size grows day by day.
2. Chithira: Another layer of flowers is added to the Pookalam and house cleaning begins on this day.
3. Chodi: Families begin shopping on this day, along with a new layer of flowers added to the Pookalam.
4. Vishakam: The various competitions begin on Day 4.
5. Anizham: Vallamkali Boat Race starts in many parts of Kerala on Anizham.
6. Thriketa: Schools start closing on Day 6 for Onam celebrations and people start devoting all their time to the celebrations.
7. Moolam: Several places see the beginning of Ona Sadya and the dance performances related to the festival.
8. Pooradam: Statues of Vamana and King Mahabali are cleaned and installed in the centre of the Pookalam.
9. Uthradom: Most crucial day of the festival. People buy fresh vegetables and traditional meals are cooked. It’s believed that King Mahabali reaches the state on this day.
10. Thiruonam: Preparations are in full swing on Day 10. People take an early bath, distribute gifts and go to temples for prayers. The grand Thiruona Sadya (Special meal for Onam) is prepared in all households. Competitions like dance and boat races continue across the state.
The Origin of Onam
Vamanamoorthy Temple in Thrikkakara (also known as Thrikkakara Temple), northeast of Ernakulam near Kochi, is particularly associated with the Onam festival. The festival is believed to have originated at this temple. The temple is dedicated to Lord Vamana, the fifth incarnation of Lord Vishnu.
Legend has it that Thrikkakara was the residence of good demon King Mahabali, a generous ruler. His reign was considered to be the golden era of Kerala. However, the gods grew concerned about the king's power and popularity. As a result, Lord Vamana is said to have sent King Mahabali to the underworld with his foot, and the temple is located at the spot where this happened.
The king asked to return to Kerala once a year to ensure that his people were still happy, well fed, and content. Lord Vamana granted this wish, and King Mahabali comes to visit his people and his land during Onam.
According to the legend, There was a demon king Mahabali who used to rule Kerala. During his rule, everybody in his kingdom lived happier without hatred and in complete harmony. However, the Gods feared that, he might become dominant and all-powerful one day. They decided to seek the help of the Lord Vishnu to suppress the powers of the king. Lord Vishnu took the form of dwarf Brahmin (also known as the Vamana avatar of the Lord). Impressed with the knowledge and intelligence of the Brahmin, the king asked him to make a wish and he will fulfill it any cost.
The Vamana asked for the three foot of land and the king agreed to give the same. At that time, the body size of the Brahmin grew larger and large. By one foot step, he measured the whole sky, in his second step, he covered the entire earth. The king at once understood that the Brahmin was not an ordinary person and was Lord Vishnu himself. The third step of the Lord could have gone on to damage the whole earth. To avert the grave danger or save the earth, the king offered his head to the Lord to measure. As soon as the Lord placed his foot over the King's head he was pushed into the underworld (pataal). However, the king loved his people and was very much attached to his kingdom. He was allowed by the Gods to visit his favourite kingdom once in a year. Onam is the day, when the king is believed to return and visit the houses of the people.