Onam is one of the biggest religious festivals celebrated in Kerala, India and is based on Hindu mythology. As story goes, there once lived a great king, Mahabali, who owned a large kingdom in what is today known as Kerala (a south-Indian state). He was revered by the people of the kingdom because of his kindness gentleness, and generosity. King Mahabali’s growing popularity made the gods fear that they would no longer being admired and worshiped by the people of the kingdom. This drove the gods to approach Lord Vishnu (one of the three main Gods in Hinduism). As the only god able to change form, or incarnations, Lord Vishnu entered Mahabali’s kingdom as a small midget, named Vamana, with one seemingly small wish. In the form of this small man, Lord Vishnu approached the king and asked him for three steps of land. The king, deceived by the size of the midget, gladly agreed. Lord Vishnu then grew immensely in size. He made his first step earth, his second step the sky/heave, and then asked the king where his third step should be placed. The honorable king, knowing that a third step on earth would destroy the universe, and wanting to stay true to his word, bowed in front of the god and asked Lord Vishnu to place his third step on his own head. Lord Vishnu then pushed King Mahabali into the ground, to the Patala Loca (a lower level of the universe in Hinduism). But Lord Vishnu was so impressed by the kings honorability that he granted the king one final wish. King Mahabali wished to return to his people one day every year. And thus King Mahabali’s homecoming is widely celebrated in Kerala and the festival is named Onam.
For this four-day festival, the state is on vacation. Schools and businesses close down, as everyone gathers to remember the great king and the sacrifice he made for his people. Taking place during harvest time, Onam sadya , a huge feast, is prepared as families come together. The feast of various local specialties is served on a large banana leaf. Since coconuts grow abundantly in the regions, the fruit is largely incorporated in every aspect of the meal. Apart from the appetizing meal, many rituals and festivities take place. One of the festivities include pookalum. For pookalum, women make an elaborate flower design outside their house, made entirely from different colors of flower petals. The pookalum is meant to welcome King Mahabali into every home. A large boat race is also organized during Onam. Huge canoes holding a 100 oarsmen are built and decorated. The various teams then race each other as eager spectators cheer on. Lastly, there is a lot of dance and music. Women do various folk dances and everyone sings along.
So Onam is a huge and elaborate festival in Kerala, India. If you ever travel to the state during the festivities, get ready for a wonderful and enthralling cultural experience. Spirits will be high as everyone remembers their beloved king.