Onam is a God-like festival that is celebrated before the fall season in Kerala, God’s own country. It’s that time of year when Kerala comes alive with trumpets, drums, elephants, boat races, dances, art, music, floral decorations, lights, colors, traditions, and the delicious Onasadya. The spirit of Onam is universal, whether you’re a Malayali or not. Let us have a look at why Onam is celebrated, what’s the story behind it and why is it referred to as the festival of joy and happiness.
Check out the World Festivals Quiz!
Table of contents
The Sanskrit word Shravanam, which refers to one of the 27 Nakshatras or constellations, is believed to have been the root behind the word ‘Onam’. Thiruvonam is believed to be the Nakshatra of Lord Vishnu, who pressed the great King Mahabali into the nether world with his foot in South India. Onam is Kerala’s most popular festival, and it is celebrated with great grandeur. It is considered to be Kerala’s national celebration. There is a long mythical story behind why Onam is celebrated. It comes in August-September, which is the first month of the year in the Malayalam calendar and is known as Chingam. The Onam celebrations last 10 days, and both young and elderly take part with equal passion.
Must Read: Importance of Makar Sankranti
The Mythical Tale Behind Onam
When it comes why Onam is celebrated, there is a fascinating mythical story behind it. Here is the story behind Onam:
There was once a king who ruled over regions of Kerala. His name was Mahabali , and he was a generous man who knew no limitations. However, he was also an asura (demon), which was unimportant to his subjects because they couldn’t have asked for a better ruler. His people adored him because he was generous, polite, and generous. The gods, on the other hand, did not approve of him in the slightest. He was, after all, an asura. They were envious of his popularity, which was at an all-time high. Because they heard King Mahabali was a devoted follower of Lord Vishnu, they went to pursue his help.
Lord Vishnu disguised himself as Vamanan, a poor Brahmin dwarf who came to Mahabali for help. Vamanan was told by Mahabali that he may ask for anything he wanted. Mahabali’s learned advisor, Shukracharya, sensed that Vamanan was not an average man. Mahabali, on the other hand, was not one to back down from a promise. Vamanan requested that Mahabali give him the area that he could cover in three steps. King Mahabali, being the generous king that he was, agreed.
Vamanan changed into a massive giant as soon as the king accepted. He covered the entire earth in a single step. He covered the sky with his second step. Mahabali realised that this giant could destroy everything with his third step. For the third step, Mahabali urged Vamanan to place his feet on his head. However, Lord Vishnu was so impressed by Mahabali’s sacrifice that he awarded him a blessing. Mahabali requested Vishnu for the opportunity to return to earth and visit his kingdom and people once a year because he was very connected to them. Lord Vishnu granted him the blessing and assured Mahabali that his people and Vishnu himself would cherish him eternally for his sacrifices. King Mahabali is said to visit his people every year on Onam as a result of the blessing. Thus, the reason why Onam is celebrated is that it honours King Mahabali’s selflessness and sacrifice.
Why is Onam Celebrated?
The Onam celebrations honours King Mahabali, who was born an Asur (a person with more negative thoughts in his mind) but became a Sur (a person with more positive thoughts in his mind) by virtue. It is stated that Kerala has never had a better time than during the reign of King Mahabali. He was the most righteous ruler in history. No one who came to his door in need ever left empty-handed. According to King Mahabali’s tale, the king sacrificed himself along with everything else he owned in order to keep his word. As a result of his sacrifice, he was granted the blessing of being remembered for eternity by the people of Kerala and all of his followers in the shape of the Onam festival.
If you want to visit Kerala and experience the fun and frolic of an Indian festival, Onam is the finest time to go. Onam celebrations are made more exciting by the interesting rituals associated with the festival.
Rituals of Onam: The 10 Days of Onam festival
During the ten-day celebrations, devotees bathe, say prayers, dress traditionally (women wear a white and gold saree known as the Kasavu saree), watch dance performances, make flower rangolis or Pookkalam, and prepare traditional feasts known as Sadya. During Onam, Sadya is served on banana leaves. People also participate in Vallam Kali boat races, Pulikali tiger dances, Onathappan worship, Tug of War, Thumbi Thullal or women’s dance ritual, Mask dance or Kummattikali, Onathallu or martial arts, Onavillu/music, Onapottan (costumes), folk songs, and other fun activities during the 10-day festival.
Onam is a ten-day celebration with a different name, importance, and activities associated with each day:
- Day 1 (Atham): On this day, Mahabali is believed to start his preparations for his journey to Earth. It is recognized by the start of designing Pookalam (only with Yellow flowers), which gradually rises in size with each passing day.
- Day 2 (Chithira): On Chithira, another layer of flowers is put on Pookalam, and house cleaning begins.
- Day 3 (Chodi): People begin their shopping on this day, along with the adding of flowers to Pookalam.
- Day 4 (Vishakam): On this day, the first of several competitions organized throughout Onam begins.
- Day 5 (Anizham): The Vallamkali Boat Race begins in many areas of Kerala on this day.
- Day 6 (Thriketa): Most schools are closed by this time, and people are devoting all of their attention to the celebrations.
- Day 7 (Moolam): Ona Sadya and festival-related dances begin to be performed in a number of locations.
- Day 8 (Pooradam): On this day, the statues of Vamana and King Mahabli are cleansed and placed in the center of the Pookalam.
- Day 9 (Uthradom): The ninth day, or Onam’s eve, is extremely important. People buy fresh veggies, while women prepare elaborate traditional feasts. On this day, King Mahabali is said to have visited Kerala.
- Day 10 (Thiruonam): This is the last day of the festival when all of the preparations culminate in grand celebrations. Early in the morning, people bathe, distribute presents, and special prayers are held at temples. Every household prepares the magnificent Thiruona Sadya (Onam Special Meal). Various competitions are held in various districts of Kerala.
The Traditional Feast of Onam
The Onam Sadya (feast) is a traditional 9-course meal with 26 dishes. Kalan (a sweet potato and yam coconut curry dish), Olan (white gourd prepared in coconut curry), Avial (seasonal vegetables in coconut curry), Kootu curry (a chickpea curry), rasam (a soup-like dish made with a tomato and pepper base, eaten with rice and other preparations), and Parippu payasam (a popular dessert) are among the dishes (a rice kheer preparation).
Thus, we hope that this blog familiarized you with why Onam is celebrated, the amazing story behind it and the celebrations you can’t miss in Kerala during this festival! Stay tuned to Leverage Edu for more such interesting reads and content!