Onam Festival: History, Significance, Culture

BP World Bureau | Sep 11 2019 11:37:26 AM

The state of Kerala celebrates the popular Onam festival today on 22nd nakshatra 'thiruvonam' day on 'Chingam' month in Malayalam calendar.

With flowers, lights, fresh odour, Kerala sadhya delicacies and popular games, Onam is a festival Malayalis around the world look forward to.

Due to the significant phrase "manushyrellarumonnu pole" (people are all one), Onam, as a festival, is celebrated by all irrespective of religion in Kerala and is regarded as a cultural festival of Malayalis.

Onam marks the return of King Mahabali, grandson of Prahlada, who was known as a benevolent king who brought about peace and prosperity.

He expanded his realm through his benevolence and moral value which was instilled into him by his grandfather Prahlada.

Devas, ruled by Lord Indra, was jealous of his influence and wanted his rule to end. They approached Lord Vishnu asking him to help them end Mahabali's rule and Vishnu took the incarnation of Vamana.

Vamana approached Mahabali and asked for three "feet of land" to which the king agreed.

Now, legend says that Vamana grew into a gigantic figure and placed one foot on the Earth and the second feet on the universe King Mahabli understood that Vamana was an incarnation of Lord Vishnu and he offered his head as a third "foot of land" and let him be pushed into the underworld.

However, he requested Lord Vishnu, in the form of Vamana, that he wanted to visit his people in his kingdom every year. Vamana granted him that wish and banished King Mahabali to the netherworld, traditionally known as the 'Patala'.

Onam festival marks King Mahabali's return to his Kingdom and people celebrate his arrival.

Onam is celebrated on four days; 'Uthradam, 'Thiruvonam', 'Avittam', and 'Chatayam'. 'Thiruvonam' marks the day when Mahabali arrives in Kerala.

Onam is celebrated lavishly with a wide range of festivals like pulikali (tiger dances) where people mostly young boys dress up as a tiger and dance. In schools and colleges, one of the students will dress up as Mahabali and the tigers welcome him to the center stage.

On all four days, people will decorate the floor of their homes with 'pookalam', extravagant flower carpets with creative designs with the help of different varieties of colorful flowers.

There are competitions held amidst people such as 'uriyadi', 'vallam kali', 'tug of war', 'onakali', 'onavillu' and 'thiruvathira'.

Women usually do 'thiruvathira', traditional dance while men compete in 'Onathallu, 'vallam kali' and 'uriyadi' which requires the formation of a human pyramid where four stands below, three of top of them and the lightest person will break the pot which is tied on top of a pole or a tree.

However, today women also participate in predominantly male competitions like 'uriyadi', 'tug of war' and 'vallamkali'. 'Vallamkali' is held at Ashtamudi Lake in Kollam, Kerala.

Traditionally women were Kerala sarees which is; white saree with golden border and they decorate their hair with jasmine flowers. Men wear white lungi with a golden border and a white shirt. Clothes are purchased for the family members during Onam, called 'Onakodi'. It is usually gifted to the children of the family.

Particularly Onam is known for the delicious 'Onasadhya' which is served on a large banana plantain leaf.

NRI Malayalis make sure that they visit their native place during Onam and it is the day when they celebrate wholeheartedly.