Onam Festival in Kerala

Onam Festival in Kerala
Photo: onamfestival.org
The Onam Festival is the biggest festival in the Indian state of Kerala. It is a Hindu festival that celebrates the rice harvest and benevolent king Mahabali. The festival runs over 10 days during the month of Chingam, which falls on August and/or September in the Gregorian calendar.

The history of Onam is linked to the Hindu mythology. According to legend, Mahabali was a wise and generous king. The time of his rule was considered one of great prosperity and the golden era of Kerala. People of all castes, classes and levels of income were treated equally, there was no unhappiness, poverty, discrimination, disease, corruption, or crime.

Unfortunately, the gods grew weary and jealous of Mahabali’s success. They were afraid the king would challenge their supremacy, so they sought help from Vishnu, one of the principal Hindu deities. Vishnu disguised himself as Vamana, a dwarf mendicant Brahmin, approached Mahabali and asked for a piece of land.

The king said that the Brahmin could have as much land as he wanted. Vamana responded that he wanted as much land as he could cover with three steps. Mahabali agreed and asked the Brahmin to take the land. Vamana then transformed into a giant and covered the entire Earth with his first step and the entire sky with his second step. Mahabali had to ask Vamana to step on his head so that he could keep his promice.

The Brahmin did so, and his step sent the king to Patala, the netherworld. There, Vamana revealed himself as Vishnu and told the king that he had passed the test and would stay in the netherworld. Seeing how beloved Mahabali was by his people, Vishnu granted him a permission to return to his land once every year.

The Onam Festival celebrates Mahabali’s devotion, sacrifice and annual return to Earth. It lasts for ten days and features colorful parades, prayers, music and dance, boat races, martial art displays, parties, and other events and activities. The celebrations take place throughout the state of Kerala, but the largest procession called Atachamayam is held in Thrippunithura, the suburb of Kochi.

Other highlights of the Onam celebrations include beautiful flower arrangements (floral carpets) called pookkalam, traditional dance, firework displays, Vallam Kali (a traditional boat race that uses paddled war canoes), feasts consisting of at least nine courses, lamp lighting, various games, and more.

Onam Festival in Kerala

Photo: Ranjith shenoy R




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